HC Deb 25 March 1994 vol 240 cc537-608

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lightbown.]

9.34 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

I am delighted that the House has the opportunity today to consider and debate those policies that can best lead to the continuing regeneration of our inner cities. Our ambition is straightforward: our cities should be places where people are proud to live and proud to bring up their children.

I draw the attention of hon. Members to the wide-ranging work being done by the Government and many others to achieve such an ambition. I mention "many others" early in the debate because it is clear that effective urban revival can best be achieved—indeed, it can only be achieved—in partnerships, including central Government and local government, but, more importantly, local people, business, community and voluntary groups.

Inner-city regeneration cannot come from the Government alone. As Lord Hailsham once commented: the Conservative contends that the most a politician can do is to ensure that some, and these by no means the most important, conditions in which the good life can exist are present and more important still to prevent fools or knaves from setting up conditions which make any approach to the good life impossible except for solitaries and authorities … All the great evils of our time have come from men who mocked and exploited human misery by pretending that good government—that is government according to their way of thinking—could offer Utopia. What the Government must do to be the principal partner is to ensure policies and guidance that promote partnerships and encourage continuing urban regeneration and economic revival, and where appropriate make available financial support. Indeed, Government support for urban regeneration in England, Wales and Scotland is currently running at some £4 billion a year. That includes elements of our main programmes and targeted initiatives; indeed, they involve large sums of money.

We all need to have a shared vision for our towns and cities—bright, bustling, vibrant, economically active, attractive to live in and pleasant to work in. Of course, we should not for one moment underestimate the challenges facing our cities, or indeed, those living there—the challenges to continue to reduce unemployment, to ensure decent housing, to continue to tackle crime, to ensure that everyone can be involved in determining their own and their family's future, and to ensure that we have the skills necessary to compete in the global markets of the 21st century.

In appreciating the challenges, we should not allow anyone to fail to acknowledge what has been achieved recently. There was an interesting trailer for today's debate on Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning. In an interview at Sunderland's Pennywell industrial estate, Councillor Les Scott, the Labour councillor for Sunderland, and Sir Paul Nicholson, chairman of the Tyne and Wear development corporation, challenged the interviewer's doom and gloom introduction. They stressed the progress that Sunderland had made over the past five years—progress in jobs and local confidence—agreeing with each other that Government support, together with local authority and business community partnerships, has paid substantial dividends. Those who listened to the interview will recall that the piece concluded with the interviewer apologising for being five years out of date. I hope that today's debate can bring everyone up to date on the achievements that have been taking place in our inner cities.

Understanding what is needed to improve the quality of our cities requires us to look at the issues in a broader, holistic way. For example, how people shop relates to how they use their cars; how they use their cars influences urban traffic flows; and how local authorities respond clearly influences whether businesses want to invest in town centres and create new jobs there.

Urban issues are all inextricably interwoven and intertwined. Vibrant cities require a sound planning framework, so we wish to encourage the vitality and viability of existing town and city centres, to ensure that, wherever possible, new shops or retail facilities are developed within town centres, and only if suitable sites are not available there should those be developed on the edge of towns. Only in very rare circumstances will we expect there to be new large-scale retail developments on out-of-town, green field sites.

Indeed, recent planning guidance makes it clear that we wish to see the end of the building of out-of-town business parks, warehouses, shopping malls and housing estates which are accessible only by car. We want to recover the vitality of life in our cities and to make them vibrant and lively places in which to live.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England commented: The Government is committed to development that takes place in urban areas as opposed to more suburbanisation of the countryside". We want to curb the growth of traffic. The planning guidance published last week on transport and the environment makes it clear that future development should be planned not only to diminish the necessity to travel but to maximise the choice of the means of travel.

Developments that are major generators of travel demand, such as shops, offices, leisure and education facilities and hospitals, should be built near railway stations or on bus routes, so that people have a choice of means of getting there, and they are not just reliant on a car.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

If the Minister is serious about wishing to curb traffic in inner cities, why is not he prepared to give London Transport the investment so that we can have a transport system in London for the year 2000? Why has he starved London Transport of money if he is serious about curbing traffic?

Mr. Baldry

London Transport has received substantial sums of investment. Perhaps the hon. Lady has not noticed that we recently announced £1.5 billion of funding for the Jubilee line. We have also completed the extension to Beckton of the docklands light railway, and we are now constructing the light railway across to Lewisham. The infrastructure of London Transport is moving apace, as it is in other city centres, and considerable sums of money are being spent on that.

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, and it may be helpful to have the matter out in the open at the start of the debate. She referred to spending, and I suspect that there will be a cacophony from the Opposition that whatever we are spending is insufficient. We must be clear on whether the spending aspirations of the Opposition have been signed up to by those on their Front Bench.

It has been extremely confusing for us in trying to understand exactly where the Opposition stand on public spending. The respected commentator Peter Riddle wrote just a few weeks ago that the Labour party spoke with two voices, if not more, on spending and taxes. He was commenting on a consultation paper on health, and I suspect that we will hear something about health in our inner cities during the debate.

The document contains none of the previous pledges on restoring alleged underfunding, but that is only half of the story. Labour conferences have approved motions proposing big increases in spending on nursery education, overseas aid, pensions, housing, industrial aid and a national minimum wage. A national minimum wage would cost taxpayers £1.5 billion, let alone what it would cost employers.

We must understand that there seems to be a new doctrine in the Labour party. If promises are made by the Opposition outside the House—even at party conferences or to business men—nobody is expected to believe them. Only when the promises are made on the Floor of the House do they appear to be firm commitments. That makes it all the more important that we watch closely the lips of Opposition Front Bench Members during the debate to see exactly what public spending commitments they are making.

When the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pops up and down saying that she wants more public spending, let us make sure whether or not her Front-Bench team have signed up to that cry. I am afraid that she and her colleagues on the Opposition's environment team appear to have got themselves into trouble before. Only a couple of weeks ago, the headline of a report in The Times of debates in this House stated that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) had undermined Labour's spending promise. The hon. Gentleman appeared to have made some commitments in the House without first having checked them with his Treasury team colleagues.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

We have come to the House to hear about the Government's spending commitments, for which the Minister is responsible. Will he address himself to his plans for the single regeneration budget in the regions? Will he tell us about the senior regional director for London? The Minister talks about partnership, but will not the function of that civil servant be to replace elected persons? Will he deny what I have said in the House—that this sort of structure is a cascade of patronage which is approaching neo-fascism?

Mr. Baldry

Of course I will talk about the single regeneration budget and the single regional director in due course. It seemed important to me that, as there appeared to be cries for more public spending from the Opposition, we got out into the open whether those were commitments to which the Labour party was signing up. It is important to know whether we were to have another Friday debate in which Opposition Back Benchers troop into the Chamber giving the impression that they want more public spending, but when the figures come out into the open, they are disclaimed by the Opposition Treasury team.

I am also concerned that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has not understood the roles of the single regeneration budget and the single regional director. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) and I spent what I thought was a productive hour with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues from the London Labour parliamentary group trying to explain that. As we clearly and lamentably failed to ensure that they understood, I will try again during the debate.

Before the intervention from the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, I was talking about the need to ensure that there was a choice of the means of travel, and that people did not have to rely on a car. Houses should be built in the hearts of our cities and near to workplaces which are made accessible to those living in city centres.

Congestion is an increasing curse of urban life. Reducing the need to travel through sensible planning must make sense, particularly in the light of forecasts that traffic will double during the next 25 years unless effective action is taken. Such planning policies will boost the regeneration of towns and cities, not only by diverting development back towards town and city centres but by promoting a greater diversity of activities within them.

Post-war planning policies of rigidly zoning different areas for different uses robbed far too many towns of their vitality. Too many of the 1960s housing estates are stuck out on the edge of cities, cut off from city centres and places of work. Cities are efficient transport locations, and we can use the planning system to enhance our cities as the focus for a high quality of urban life.

Of course, the results of new planning guidance will not be seen overnight, and the planning decisions that are taken today will have consequences for many years to come. The new guidance to cut reliance on the motor car and to boost the vitality of our cities will increasingly have an impact as local authorities prepare their local plans and take decisions on planning applications. I am sure that what we are seeking to achieve in enhancing the future sustainability of towns and cities goes very much with the grain of what people want, and what we are seeking to achieve through the planning system strikes a vital chord. People do not want ever more sheds on the bypass if that puts at risk the heritage and undermines the vitality of existing city centres.

As well as planning for the future, we are tackling the dereliction of the past.

Mr. Spearing

What about docklands?

Mr. Baldry

I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's point. I do not want him to get bored and want to disappear. Of course, he could not get bored—it is such an interesting debate.

It became clear in the early 1980s that large tracts of our cities were blighted by industrial dereliction and contaminated land. Large parts of previous industrial areas needed to be regenerated and brought back into useful economic use.

For example, London docklands is dear to the heart of Opposition Members. The last time we debated inner-city issues in the Chamber a few weeks ago, the hon. Member for Newham, South was scathing about the achievements of London docklands. I was surprised at that. Subsequently, I discovered that the only newspaper that supports the Labour party has had the perspicacity to move to docklands.

The Daily Mirror has moved into Canary wharf, once described by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) as a great white elephant. In a recent issue of the Daily Mirror, a report said: The 21st century starts here … We can see the Thames winding away East towards the sea. The old City of London spread out to the West. Beyond it, the heart of the capital. But we can see more than that. We can see the future. The Daily Mirrorhas rather more confidence in the future of docklands than Labour Members of Parliament who represent the dockland areas.

The editors of the various Mirror Group newspapers said: Nobody could be more enthusiastic about the move to Canary Wharf than the editors of the four Mirror Group titles involved. 'It's a bright new world that represents a new get-up-and-do-it attitude of Britain's young,' says Daily Mirror editor David Banks. It's a quality location for quality staff, a young staff who are ambitious for themselves and for the company. [HON. MEMBERS: "They would say that."] Opposition Members may jeer, but the newspaper is talking about jobs and bringing a substantial number of jobs to docklands.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, Fast)

The Minister must be short of ideas if he has to read chunks out of the Daily Mirror to substitute for his speech. He will know, because he was present at the launch of "Cities '94" with me at Canary wharf, that the main criticism of the developers was the failure of the Government to give adequate leadership to regeneration policies.

Mr. Baldry

That is twaddle. It is clear from what is happening in docklands that a clear lead has been given. Docklands is testimony to the leadership that the Government have demonstrated in the past decade. What is happening in docklands is being repeated elsewhere.

Today's issue of Building magazine gives some evidence. Opposition Members come to the Chamber so often to seek to bury Canary wharf. It is important to make it clear that Canary wharf is a great success. [Laughter. ] I appreciate that the Opposition do not like to hear good news, but I see it as one of our functions to ensure that they understand the realities of life.

The editor of Building magazine said only today: Canary Wharf is no longer half empty; it is half full. The difference between the two is not measured in square feet, it is a question of optimism. Developers, occupiers, clients and especially housebuilders … feel a whole lot better. In London, several late 1980s buildings

are being hosed down for the 1990s.…. a large chunk of the Royal Docks has got a developer.…. Outside the capital, the pressure is intensifying on city centre sites as there is simply not enough modern space to go around. And it is not just offices—retail, leisure, even government building work is on the up. And remember that orders are up by 30 per cent. So the success we see in docklands is a success that we are seeing throughout the country.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The building of Canary wharf is a magnificent structure. Indeed, no expense was spared. If the Minister thinks that Canary wharf is so wonderful—I share a great admiration for the building—can he tell me why Olympia and York, which built it, went bankrupt?

Mr. Baldry

There is no secret about it. Olympia and York went bankrupt because Britain and the whole of the world was going through one of the worst recessions since the last war. It is a great pity that, even now, the hon. Gentleman cannot bring himself to welcome new jobs moving into docklands. Indeed, it is a great pity that Opposition Members cannot share even the enthusiasm expressed by the last newspaper that supports them, the Daily Mirror, in trumpeting the achievements that have occurred in docklands.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is support among the Opposition for the progress and development in London docklands? Lord Mellish, who was formerly the Member of Parliament for Bermondsey, said the other day that: eight and a half square miles of absolute complete and utter devastation has today been transformed.

Mr. Baldry

Absolutely. Indeed, Lord Cocks, a former Opposition Chief Whip and deputy chairman of the London Docklands development corporation, gives a similar story.

Ms Abbott

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Spearing

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baldry

I should like to make some progress. I have given way several times.

We also had to bring back to useful life areas such as the banks of the Tyne and the Wear and a huge acreage of contaminated land on the site of former steelworks in Sheffield. There was a clear need for a co-ordinated and locally focused strategy to tackle such areas.

We introduced the urban development corporations. The UDCs have been revitalising their designated areas since 1981, acting as catalysts for regeneration, bringing land back into productive use and, in so doing, creating opportunities for new homes and new jobs—more than 26,000 new houses and substantially more than 150,000 jobs so far. All this has been, and will continue to be, of great benefit to local people.

The regeneration has involved substantial public investment—more than £3,000 million. Last year alone, the UDCs were responsible for spending substantially more than £400 million. Here, as elsewhere, the public money that we have invested and the way in which we have invested it have ensured the levering in of millions and millions of pounds of private sector funding—I estimate almost £13,000 million to date. That is very big money indeed. It is substantial further investment in inner-city areas.

The private sector is prepared to invest where it is clear that Government and local people together are committed to revitalising urban areas and creating new opportunities.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way in the relatively relaxed atmosphere of a Friday. I hope to respond to most of his points if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In respect of Canary wharf and the Daily Mirror, is the Minister aware that the developers of Canary wharf are in hock to the banks? I understand that the Daily Mirror is not unconnected with the banks. Does the Minister agree that it is in their mutual interest to fill up the estate and talk it up, so that their liabilities are reduced? If the Minister thinks that the Isle of Dogs is the pattern for the future and has pinned the Government's reputation to what has happened there, I am pleased to hear it.

Mr. Baldry

It makes one want to tear one's hair out. Here we have an area to which a substantial employer is bringing new jobs and new business. What do Opposition Members do? One after another, they get up to condemn the fact that new jobs and new opportunities are being brought to their areas. It is mind-boggling. If business was brought to any other constituency in the country and new jobs and new activity were created, the Member of Parliament would be singing from the rooftops. The fact is that the only news that Labour Members like is bad news.

I should have liked to set out the achievements of each development corporation. They are extremely impressive and numerous. But I would hog too much of today's debate if I set them out in detail. The breadth of their achievements is dramatic, encompassing new internationally renowned innovations such as Liverpool's Albert dock and, again, London's Canary wharf.

The urban development corporations have secured the development of large city-centre sites, bringing about new business parks, hotels and conference centres, retailing complexes, cultural and leisure facilities, many thousands of new homes and impressive refurbishment and revival of numerous listed and historic buildings.

The House will recall my right hon. and noble Friend the Baroness Thatcher, when Prime Minister in 1987—I am sure we all wish her a full recovery from her recent illness—visiting Teesside, and the cameras catching her as she walked across a huge area of disused, derelict and contaminated land which was the site of former engineering works. I am sure that many of us can recall that photograph.

Less than a decade later, that site is no longer derelict. Today, that area is being transformed by the Teesside development corporation which, with its own money and some £500 million of private sector support, is building 680 new homes, providing some 140,000 sq ft of new industrial office and retail floor space, and will be providing more than 4,500 permanent jobs. That is what is being achieved in our inner cities.

The achievements of the development corporations are on-going—from a proposed new international airport for Sheffield, a new concert hall for Manchester, the extension of the docklands light railway to Lewisham, and many other similarly exciting projects. The development corporations are now approaching the end of their statutory life agreed with Parliament. Together with local authorities and the local business community, they are starting to plan their succession strategies to ensure that the momentum of their work is maintained.

We have also been investing to tackle and turn around derelict land throughout the country with derelict land grant and city grant. Last year alone, some £30 million was spent on 166 derelict land grant schemes in inner-city areas. The schemes reclaimed about 1,100 acres of land. I think that it is sometimes quite difficult for us to envisage what 1,100 acres represents. It is an area reclaimed in one year from one Government scheme alone equivalent to 625 times the size of the pitch at Wembley stadium—land for industrial development and for housing, all reclaimed for beneficial use.

There are far too many interesting and exciting DLG schemes for me to be able to set them out in any detail, but many cities have benefited. For example, in Liverpool a huge area of redundant railway land has been transformed into the Wavertree technology park; in Birmingham, nearly £500,000 of DLG has funded the reclamation of the methane-contaminated site of the former Burbury brickworks; and in Rotherham, the massive Templeborough site—I saw it the other day—once occupied by steelworks, is being reclaimed under a DLG-funded rolling programme of reclamation, bringing about the new Rotherham engineering and computer technology centre—REACT—scheme and an estimated 220 new jobs.

In addition to derelict land grant, we also have city grant. City grant supports private sector inner-city projects, including those on derelict land, where the abnormal costs are such that the market alone would be insufficient to get the project going. Since it was first introduced six years ago, nearly 400 city grant schemes have been approved, and £336 million in public money has levered in £1,400 million in private investment. That private investment would not have been spent in our inner-city areas without a public commitment. It is an impressive ratio of nearly £5 of private money invested in our inner cities for every £1 of public money spent.

In six years, more than 2,000 acres of inner-city land have been reclaimed, more than 43,000 jobs have been created and nearly 12,000 new homes provided—all very impressive achievements. For example, in Hull the Victoria docks site is being transformed into a new urban village, with 1,100 new homes on what was 150 acres of derelict land. [HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."] In Barnsley, a £10 million grant for the contaminated colliery site is providing 400,000 sq ft of industrial and office space, which will provide more than 1,000 much-needed new jobs in the area. [HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."] At St. Helens, a £3.6 million grant for the Green Bank housing project is providing more than 300 homes on formerly derelict land [HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."]

Labour Members keep muttering the word "Labour" from sedentary positions. I am not entirely sure whether that is to remind them which party they belong to. We in central Government work with local authorities up and down the country, irrespective of their political complexion, because we want to work in partnership with them. But if Labour Members keep banging on about the virtues of the Labour party, I will be prompted—as indeed I am—to share with the House some facts about some Labour councils which they might not be so proud of.

I wonder whether hon. Members opposite would welcome an association with Lambeth council—I see at least one hon. Member from the Lambeth area present in the House. Hon. Members might not have noticed a story which appeared on the "Newsroom Southeast" programme only last night. The BBC commentator said: it demonstrated that Lambeth council has admitted spending £9 million unlawfully on building maintenance contracts. A secret internal council report leaked to the BBC reveals that the authority also made 400 unnecessary redundancies among its blue collar workers. The council has admitted unlawfully spending £9 million and axing 400 builders' jobs unnecessarily. The council says it broke the law by issuing major contracts for building maintenance without going through the right procedures or even gaining proper approval. Some companies have been given important contracts, despite being on the authority's official blacklist. I am not sure whether that is a council with which hon. Members opposite wish to be associated.

Mr. Vaz

That is not a Labour council.

Mr. Baldry

I am not sure that the Labour councillors of Lambeth who appear to be running the council would accept that. I am sure that they will be interested to know that they have now been disowned by those on the Front Bench of the parliamentary Labour party.

I am afraid that councils like Lambeth go from the sublime to the ridiculous. As the House may know, Lambeth is twinned with places such as Moscow, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone and even one of the red light districts of Tokyo. The council is so short of money that its town twinning officer and his assistant—one will notice that, in Labour authorities, if two people can do a job, two are employed rather than one—are not allowed to make foreign calls to the towns with which Lambeth is twinned. That is not surprising when a borough like Lambeth is losing £9 million on building maintenance contracts alone.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

My constituency has an unemployment rate 50 per cent. above the national average. I sit listening to the Minister wondering what this political nonsense has to do with dealing with unemployment and poverty in the inner cities. What have the last 15 minutes had to do with these problems? Will the Minister inform the House why, after 15 years of such Government programmes, we still have unacceptable, obscene levels of unemployment in our inner cities?

Mr. Baldry

I am again dumbfounded. The hon. Gentleman refers to the fact that just one Labour-controlled London borough in one of its activities has lost £9 million and has made 400 unnecessary redundancies, and he describes it as "political nonsense". I think that the people in Lambeth and elsewhere would be horrified by his remarks.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

I point out to my hon. Friend that, in south Leeds, £46 million of public money has generated £250 million of private money, which is a ratio of more than 5:1. It has transformed the centre of south Leeds and has more or less helped to develop the whole of the city by boosting investment confidence. It has also got the Labour council off its backside and, at long last, it is running programmes in the inner city to replace the silly plans that it has gone on about for years.

Mr. Baldry

My hon. Friend makes some extremely good points. In the last decade, there has been a transformation in the approach and attitude of Labour authorities up and down the country. The House will recall that when we first introduced development corporations in Leeds and elsewhere, they were resisted, and Labour councils fought against them tooth and nail. They refused to co-operate or work with them.

Nowadays, when I visit development corporations and local authorities, I am always asked, "Please extend the life of the corporation and give us more money". The focused and strategic approach of the corporations has brought great benefits to Leeds, Sheffield and anywhere else that has one.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Can my hon. Friend confirm that about £12 million in rent arrears is outstanding, and that it is mostly due to Labour-controlled authorities? If those arrears had been properly collected, they could have been used to improve council estates in inner cities and thus could have created the jobs that Opposition Members are shouting about.

Mr. Baldry

That is right, and it is worth the House noting that many Labour-controlled authorities are substantially in debt due to rent arrears and to other debts —19 out of 20 of the most indebted local authorities are Labour controlled. Islington's debt is equivalent to £20 million for each Labour councillor, and that of Lambeth and Southwark is equivalent to £24 million for each Labour councillor. In cities such as Sheffield, people face a debt repayment of £40 million. Sheffield is paying £76 every minute of every year—money which could have been invested in its infrastructure.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

Will the Minister be a little more honest than he and his colleagues have been about those debts? Does he accept that the local authority debt to which he referred is the result of investment in housing? If the urban development corporations' accounts had been laid out in the same way, the houses that the Minister claims those corporations built would also have a debt entry against them. However, the Government have written that debt off, and the Minister should be honest enough to admit it.

Mr. Baldry

That shows that, in the run-up to the local elections, the Opposition are on the run because of those debts. They are concerned that the truth is getting out. Birmingham, for example, has a local authority debt that is three times that of Albania. People in Birmingham appreciate that it took Albania 40 years of state communism to acquire its debt, but it has unfortunately taken Birmingham only 10 years of a Labour-controlled council.

Mr. Henderson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Baldry


We are also working with local authorities to renovate and repair many of our older housing estates. As we know, some council estates have become very run down and have severe problems with physical decay and associated management problems. Those are often due to the original design and building standards of the homes concerned, as much as to the age of the property. In some cases, they have been compounded by inadequate estate management and maintenance. We have been, and are, investing millions of pounds every year in estate action programmes.

Estate action provides millions of pounds to help local authorities to invest in such estates and to implement refurbishment and renovation schemes, in partnership with local tenants, which is important.

Estate action often levers in substantial private investment in support of public spending. Since the programme was established, about 360,000 homes have been improved, which is equivalent to the housing stock of Humberside—a considerable achievement. Under many of the schemes, local tenants are participating in new ways to run their estates, which gives them greater control, through the tenant management co-operatives, estate management boards or other tenant management organisations that have been set up.

This year we are spending £365 million on estate action.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

As my hon. Friend is referring to estate action, will he confirm that at least two council estates in my constituency have benefited considerably from that programme? I have visited them. Does he agree that it would be more helpful if Labour-controlled Norwich city council gave the Government credit where it was due for the success of that scheme, in my constituency and elsewhere?

Mr. Baldry

Estates throughout the country have benefited from estate action schemes. As part of that continuing investment, I am pleased to be able to announce that the Government have approved £40 million in support for four estate action schemes in London, costing more than £90 million in total. The schemes are at the White City estate in Hammersmith and Fulham, Northumberland Park in Haringey, the Harvist estate in Islington and the Phipps Bridge estate in Merton.

The four schemes will result in the improvement of more than 3,500 homes and their environment, and will provide nearly 500 new homes and sustain about 400 jobs in the construction industry. On all those estates, the residents will be encouraged to become more involved in the management of their homes.

Hand in hand with regenerating inner-city land, refurbishing the old and building anew, we have to ensure the continuing revival of the economic strength of our inner cities. Those needs—physical regeneration and economic strength—are inextricably entwined and often mutually dependent. For example, investors will provide money for new business premises only if they believe that they can be let because local business is expanding, with new jobs, to take over the space available.

New business is attracted to the area because of the high quality of the business premises available and because the local work force are skilled and able to meet their needs. Those factors are inextricably entwined, and we must ensure that we can tackle and meet them all.

We are all competing in a single market in a global economy. The tools that are being used can, and frequently are, the same the world over. Whether we make a success of our opportunities and beat the competition depends on the ingenuity and skills of the people using those tools. The future prosperity of our cities depends on local people having the skills to take on the rest of the world and win.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

The Minister is getting to the subject that I wanted to ask him about, but much of his speech—apart from some political sniping—has concerned a property-based approach to inner-city generation. Perhaps he will recognise that, in many inner-city areas, local people are left behind, and that behaviour patterns and lack of skills and education need to be dealt with. For example, anti-social behaviour patterns are often perpetuated. Those problems are perhaps best illustrated in the London docklands, where, in spite of the magnificent achievements, local unemployment has often increased.

I hope that the Minister will say how we can deal with the problems that are endemic in inner cities, such as low skills and poor patterns of behaviour, as well as talk about the property-based schemes that often leave local people behind.

Mr. Baldry

I am sure that I have made it clear to the House that all those issues are entwined. One cannot have new jobs and opportunities with derelict land. One must bring in private sector investment. I thought that I had just made it clear—I shall say it again, as it is important—that the future prosperity of our cities depends on local people having the skills needed to take on the rest of the world and win. It is vital to the nation's future that we raise the skill level of our work force.

The training and enterprise councils are taking the lead to ensure that as many local people as possible acquire the skills that they need. Youth training for 16 and 17-year-olds, training for work for the long-term unemployed and increasingly tailored training packages for local employers are some of the schemes.

To respond to the intervention by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) a good example of such investment is the fact that the Tyne and Wear development corporation has built, with investment, new office premises which it has let to a Chinese company inwardly investing here to manufacture televisions for export. The company purchased training from the local TEC for local people, to enable them to work for it. The majority of the people being recruited have been unemployed long-term.

New businesses, new premises, inward investment, tailored training and higher skills all go together to ensure the revival of our inner cities.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problems of Lambeth and other inner-London boroughs are a function of very poor school results? The TECs are handicapped by the fact that schools in inner London are characterised by high truancy rates, poor GCSE pass rates and poor A-level results.

Ms Abbott


Mr. Marshall

The hon. Lady asks why. Is my hon. Friend aware that, in Lambeth, 21.1 per cent. of pupils get five or more GCSE passes at grade A to C, compared with 28.1 per cent. in Wandsworth and 45.4 per cent. in Barnet? Does that not emphasise the poor results of Lambeth schools? Is it not high time that Lambeth council, instead of practising socialism, went after standards?

Mr. Baldry

Raising standards in our schools, and in inner-city schools especially, must be an important objective for us all. My hon. Friend makes a telling point.

The budgets of the TECs are substantial. Let me give an impression of scale, because it is sometimes difficult to put that into perspective.

One TEC, Wearside TEC, has a budget of £14.5 million for this year alone, and is helping projects such as youth training, training for work, business enterprise support, employment investment in people, and in education more generally. That is £14.5 million being invested by just one TEC in one year in one part of the country. Similar sums —millions of pounds—are being invested by 81 other TECs such as Wearside throughout the country, all similarly involved in ensuring prosperity tomorrow through developing new skills today.

This year, TECs will introduce the prototypes of new modern apprenticeships, which, in subsequent years, should increase to more than 40,000 each year the number of young people in England who achieve NVQ level 3 qualification through work-based training. We are determined to continue to raise the academic and skills levels of people in this country. It is imperative that we do so if we are to compete in global markets.

It is not only through the TECs that we are encouraging people—young people especially—to update skills and acquire new ones. In response to the comment of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), I point out that many of our urban initiatives such as the task force and city challenge partnerships have been pioneering innovative ways of encouraging people—often young people—who have been alienated by their experience of formal education, to have a second chance and obtain good basic education and training skills on which they can build.

For example, Wirral city challenge's "neighbourhood colleges" have provided what they describe as "just down the road" training locations, to make it easier and more accessible for local people to reach training opportunities. The Granby Toxteth task force in Liverpool has helped to develop open learning opportunities whereby people can study at home. I am sure that if the hon. Member for Norwood visits the Brixton city challenge, he will find that it is involved in training opportunities. It is important that we promote training in our inner cities right across the board.

Mr. Henderson

The Minister will no doubt receive support from the industrial community when he announces different training initiatives. How does he explain to the industrial community that we spend less on training than important industrial competitors such as Germany, and that the skill levels of people who have to work in manufacturing industry are considerably lower than those of their counterparts in Germany, after 15 years of a Conservative Government?

Mr. Baldry

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, when he has finished speaking or has an opportunity later this morning, he goes to the Library and gets out some publications such as "Competence and Competition", published by the National Economic Development Office, which clearly show that state spending—taxpayers' spending—in this country compares well with that of any other country in European Community. The difference is the amount of money that employers have been prepared to invest in training. That is why we have set up TECs, which are local employer-led initiatives to ensure that they have every incentive to continue to invest in training.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) obviously was not listening. We, the state—taxpayers collectively—are investing £14.5 million in only one TEC in one year, and there are 81 TECs such as that throughout the country, investing similar sums of money. I know from visiting Tyne and Wear—which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I now do regularly—that local employers are investing ever-increasing sums of money in local training, working with the TECs, because they can clearly see the benefit of having a work force with the best possible skills.

For many people, child care is an important element in enabling them to take up work or training. I am glad to say that there are many more child care places available than there were a few years ago. As the House will recall, the November Budget announced the introduction of a child care disregard for parents claiming family credit and other in-work benefits such as housing benefit. That will help many low-income families to get back into the world of work.

We have done a tremendous amount to ensure the right framework in which our cities can thrive and develop. We seek to provide resources for those people and places most affected by the structural changes that have affected the world in the past few decades.

In the 1960s, investment was modest and operated largely through the public sector. In the late 1970s, we introduced a more formal approach, with initiatives targeted on more clearly defined areas of need. In the 1980s, we increased the investment and expanded our initiatives. I have mentioned many of those—urban development corporations, derelict land grant, city grant and task force.

Nevertheless, we refuse to stand still. We are always seeking to build on experience. So we introduced our very successful city challenge schemes, based on partnerships with local authorities, local people and local businesses. The local authorities were encouraged to provide a lead and a co-ordinating role. In much of what we do in the inner cities, we expect and wish that local authorities will provide a lead and a co-ordinating role, and city challenge is testament to that approach. As a result of two competitions, there are now 31 city challenge partnerships in England.

The successful partnerships are all different, but they have all developed a five-year programme of initiatives that they consider best tackle the physical and economic regeneration of their areas. Each partnership receives £37.5 million of public money over the five years, but they are all succeeding in levering in substantial extra sums of private investment as a consequence of that public spending.

The city challenge partnerships are proving a great success. Thirty-one partnerships are now feeling the benefit of those invigorating plans. This year, 11 partnerships will reach the halfway point in their five-year plans. In just their first year, those 11 city challenge partnerships built more than 3,000 homes, created or preserved more than 2,500 jobs, and helped nearly 270 businesses to start up.

During the full five years of their programmes, the Government expect to contribute more than £1 billion to the 31 partnerships, and expect more than £3 billion of private money to be invested in those inner-city areas—areas where investment had previously been all but impossible to attract.

Importantly, in addition to achieving new homes, creating new businesses and preserving jobs, many of the city challenge initiatives have been able to reduce crime in their areas. For example, in Sunderland, Bradford and Newcastle, when local people were consulted, it was discovered that they identified fear of crime as the biggest local concern. I am glad to say that, in all those three regions there have, as a consequence of city challenge, been reductions of between 10 and 25 per cent. in recorded crime. For example, it is the first time for many years that there has been a decrease in crime in the relevant part of Newcastle.

It is often believed that a continuing increase in crime in our cities is inevitable. That is obviously not the case, as the work being done by city challenge shows. We want our cities to be safe. We want people to feel safe at home and to feel that their offices will not be burgled or their car vandalised.

The Prime Minister recently launched a planning guidance on "Planning Out Crime", so that crime can be given early consideration in all development. There is a partnership in planning between local authorities, developers and police.

Local initiatives, too, can tackle and are tackling crime. In an increasing number of inner cities, we are seeing the introduction of closed circuit television, to the advantage of those areas.

We want cities to be safe, but also attractive for those who live and work there. Parks, trees, fine buildings, sports facilities and cultural events all have an important part to play. We a doing a lot to help make our cities attractive. We are providing funding to protect our buildings through English Heritage, encouraging arts and culture through the Department of National Heritage, and the arts through the Arts Council. We are creating green spaces with derelict land grant and city challenge money.

The House may be interested to know that we have recently appointed a special adviser, Mr. Liam O'Connor, to help advise on good design in our environment. The principles on which city challenge is based are being further developed through the new initiatives that we announced last November: the setting up of integrated regional offices, the creation of English partnerships, the introduction of the single regeneration budget and the launch of city pride. That package was widely welcomed not only in Parliament but by local government, community and business organisations and many expert commentators on inner-city issues.

Despite my best efforts, Opposition Members still seem to misunderstand what the integrated regional office will do. The integration of the Government's regional offices will ensure that all our programmes pull together as effectively as possible, and that local communities and businesses have a single point of contact for Government services. That will result in a better co-ordinated and more local service for the benefit of everyone.

We are locating together the regional staff of the Departments of Trade and Industry, Employment, Transport and the Environment, appointing a senior civil servant accountable to Ministers, as Ministers are accountable to the House, and thus introducing a much better, co-ordinated approach. I thought that that approach was also the Labour party's policy, so it is surprising that Labour Members find the concept so difficult to understand.

Ms Abbott

The Minister referred earlier to the Government's activities in relation to crime. Will he enlighten the House on why the Government still refuse to back the private Member's legislation on racial harassment, which is a serious problem in inner cities?

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Lady can rest assured that every Conservative Member and every member of the Government is determined to combat racial harassment. The proposal on racial harassment would make it more difficult to combat racial attacks, because, if the Crown brought a prosecution, one would have to prove not only assault or some other aggravating factors but demonstrate, so that the court could be sure, that the attack had been motivated by racial reasons.

The legislation would make it more difficult to combat racial attacks and harassment. There is no shortage of commitment on the Government side of the House to bear down on racial harassment, but introducing further legislation as the hon. Lady suggests would not help. It would make it more difficult to ensure that those who perpetrate racial attacks are brought to justice and convicted.

I was trying to explain the approach of the integrated regional offices. It is common ground throughout the House that those are a sensible move forward.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in allowing me to intervene. My reason for doing so is that he has told us only half the truth. We understand the first-stop shop, but we do not agree with the fact that there is to be a bidding match, not just by a locally elected persons, local authorities and boroughs but by all sorts of other people. The Minister has not said that he is putting in place a senior civil servant to conduct that bidding match. As the senior regional director for London will take post a week today, will the Minister now say who he or she is?

Mr. Baldry

I am more than pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman the whole story, if he will stop interrupting me. I was about to come to the single regeneration budget and the position of London.

We have launched city pride for our three largest cities —Birmingham, Manchester and London—which challenges those cities to produce their vision for the future, alongside which we could align our programmes and resources. Obviously, the position of London is vital. It is a great national asset, full of life and excitement, with a great diversity of people, culture, activities and interests.

Mr. Mudie

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baldry

No, I have already given way several times. I have spoken for some time, and I am anxious to ensure that others can participate in the debate.

The Secretary of State for the Environment recently invited Londoners and all those with an interest to offer views on London's future. The full outcome of that exercise will be published soon. But the responses make it clear that Londoners have great pride in their city and that visitors think highly of London as well. We shall take full account of all the views received when deciding future priorities for London.

Meanwhile, as a further important step, we announced yesterday the new senior regional director for London. He is Mr. Robin Young, appointed at deputy secretary level, demonstrating the importance we attach to London's needs. He will serve the people of London extremely well, and bring a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to that vital job.

The introduction of the single regeneration budget, which brings together 20 existing programmes, has been widely welcomed. It has certainly been welcomed by those local authority leaders whom I and my ministerial colleagues have met. Local authorities and local businesses recognise that the new budget will provide the flexibility to focus assistance on areas facing multiple problems and allow local communities to get more involved in local decisions, as the budget will fund initiatives supported by partnerships whose proposals have the support of the local community.

The practical, positive partnership approach that is important in city challenge, in bringing forward proposals for the single regeneration budget, is also the approach that we are adopting for winning funds from European programmes. European structural funds have an important role to play in helping urban regeneration.

In England, we have secured £632 million in objective 1 money for Merseyside, and £2.8 billion objective 2 funding for eligible parts of England. Those areas are well placed to use such funds very effectively alongside the single regeneration budget and other national funding. In doing so, the Government will be working in partnership with local authorities, TECs and others.

As the House knows European regional development fund money does not cover the whole cost of projects; there must be matching funding. Confusion seems to persist about where such funding can come from. Let me make the position crystal clear. Matching funding can come from Government Departments including the single regeneration budget; local authorities; other public agencies such as English Partnerships; and the private and voluntary sectors. So money spent on, for example, infrastructure projects, certain environmental improvements, business support measures and training schemes can qualify as matching funding for the purposes of ERDF, and no area should have difficulty in maximising the available ERDF resources.

I have mentioned English Partnerships several times. Let me describe its role. Successful though long-standing initiatives such as city grant have been, there is scope for a more proactive, flexible and entrepreneurial approach. That is why, from next Friday, we are bringing together the work of city grant, derelict land grant and English Estates in English Partnerships, under the chairmanship of Lord Walker. That will allow maximum flexibility and greatest synergy to the benefit of local people.

English Partnerships is getting off to a cracking start. It has already announced its first significant investment of £25 million to some 25 projects, and it expects this to lever in a further £75 million from the private sector, possibly creating more than 1,000 jobs for these new projects alone, which include a private housing scheme in Liverpool, in partnership with Wimpey Homes and offices, workshops and retail development in Salford in partnership with Manchester Property Venture Fund; and bring back to life a grade 2 listed building, St. Nicholas in Newcastle, to make an attractive office development.

However much this Government and other public sector bodies do, cities will not work unless there is active private sector investment and community enterprise. We are doing much to help increase investment opportunities for the private sector. As well as the initiatives that I have already mentioned, we are also encouraging greater private sector activity through the private finance initiative.

The purpose of the private finance initiative is simple. It is to bring an extension in the role of the private sector in managing and financing capital investment and services which have traditionally been the responsibility of Government. We want to ensure that every £1 of public spending can be maximised. We start from a sound base. This year, my Department alone expects to raise more than £4 billion of private sector finance in support of departmental programmes.

Of course, money and fresh investment are important, but so are people, who are the most important ingredient. We are determined to involve local people and, wherever possible, to empower them to enable them to help determine their future. We are determined to bring on board the vast resources that the hundreds and thousands of city communities have to offer, as individuals and as voluntary groups. That is very much in the spirit of the Prime Minister's vision of active citizenship and the "You can make a difference" initiative recently launched by the Home Secretary to highlight practical ways in which to promote volunteering.

Some of the most vivid examples of the energy that communities can bring are seen in the tenant management organisations that are springing up across the country, often in the teeth of opposition from some of their local authorities. All over the country, tenants' groups are being organised. They are preparing to manage their estates.

We already support more than 200 groups in that preparatory phase. There are now 76 fully operational tenant management organisations up and running. From next Friday, the new right-to-manage scheme will give all properly constituted council tenants' organisations the right to take over the management of their estates, even if the local community is unwilling.

Of course, there are enormous challenges. City life presents challenges the world over, but phenomenal opportunities exist to continue to make our cities economically vibrant, safe and attractive places in which people will want to live and work, and will be proud to bring up their children. The Government are making a full contribution, by ensuring that policies mutually support inner-city regeneration and economic revival, in providing substantial financial resources, and in acting as a prime partner with local councils, local people and the many other partners who together can and will continue to transform our cities.

Our inner-city initiatives are working well. They are policies of which we can be proud. They will continue to help regenerate, revive and transform our cities for the better as we enter the 21st century.

10.40 pm
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

The Minister spoke for an hour and six minutes and I was beginning to wonder whether his advisers had told him that Friday mornings were notoriously difficult for Ministers, and if he did not want to be left on his own, he had better have enough to say to keep the House occupied for a good part of the debate. But I should have thought that the Minister would become aware early in his speech that some of his colleagues were present and that, to some extent, their interventions have been helpful to him. I knew that that could not have been the reason for the length of the Minister's speech.

I know that the Minister likes cricket. I thought that he was obviously one of those batsmen who like to take a long time to get their eye in. I thought that, if we hung about long enough, we would see some strokes from the Minister, but I got that wrong as well.

It suddenly dawned on me that the Minister's speech mirrored the Government's urban policy in the past 15 years. They believe that if they talk about it long enough and have enough gimmicks and micro-suggestions, people will forget that the Government have no strategy and have cut resources and that the position is worse now than when the policy began. We were waiting for a strategy from the Minister. The Opposition are here to debate the single regeneration budget and the integrated regional offices. The Opposition welcome some of the new structures; indeed, we have been calling for them for a long time. We are waiting to hear the Governments's strategy on those new structures and how they will fit in place. We have not heard about that.

We welcome the debate. The issue of urban decay is important. We must try to resolve it with determination if we are to have a strong nation, with a strong economy and with people living together cohesively and in peace. It is important that we represent our constituents' interests on those important matters and I am pleased that, even on a Friday morning, a significant number of hon. Members want to take part in the debate.

Urban decay is not confined to one or two, or even half a dozen, cities around the country. As I see when I tour the country, it is a growing problem. It does not exist only in Liverpool and Newcastle. It is now becoming apparent in parts of Liverpool and Newcastle where hitherto it has not been apparent. It is also apparent in southern England—in Portsmouth, Southampton, Reading and Gillingham today one can begin to see some of the features that were apparent in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow 15 years ago. That shows that Government policies have not taken account of the way in which urban decay has begun to spread. That is why the Government's urban policies have not been a success. They have been a fraud and a shambles. The policies have been a fraud because Government claims have never been realised. The policies are a shambles because the lessons that should have been learned from the mistakes have not been learned.

The Minister's speech was completely devoid of a strategy because he recognised that, in the past, the Government's policies have not been successful. The Government have been found out, not by the House of Commons, but by the people who live in inner-city communities throughout the country. If the Government are to convince people that they have a strategy that can work, it will have to be much more cogent than the Government's previous strategies.

Why has the Government's strategy failed? The failure is due to three false assumptions. The first was that urban decay was a sore in an otherwise successful economy. People who live in Britain recognise that there has been no economic miracle in the past 15 years, that the problems of the British economy are as serious as, if not more serious than, they were 15 years ago, and that urban decay is not a sore in this otherwise healthy earth.

I have already alluded to the Government's second false assumption. Urban decay is not a limited problem which can be solved by sending in a task force. Urban decay is endemic to our cities and is beginning to spread, and therefore any measures introduced to tackle it must challenge that assumption.

The Government's third assumption involves the fact that they have never been prepared to accept that general economic policy should have as much to do with urban regeneration as do other specific measures included in urban programmes or schemes. The failure to recognise that fact lies behind the Government's failure to take up the issue of the regeneration of our urban areas. Everyone in the country knows that. I do not understand why the Government have never accepted that.

People in east London know that Canary wharf, however nice a building it is, can never play an important part in the economy of the east end of London unless that economy is part of a prosperous economy in London and the south-east of the country generally. The factory units, which have been built and are welcome, will never be utilised unless there are people who want to make and sell things. When the economy is in recession and the country is patently suffering from economic failure, those living in urban areas cannot be given the hope that they are entitled to expect.

Dr. Hampson

No one could dispute the hon. Gentleman's interesting remarks, but I expected him to say that, in a recession, there should be extra investment in infrastructure, which has occurred under the Government's initiatives. That is surely what the Labour party used to believe. I am amazed that it no longer does.

The Government believe that there has been a transformation in, for example, the inner-city areas of Leeds during the recession. The urban development corporations have created about 8 million jobs. Without that catalyst, the royal armouries would not have been transferred from the Tower of London to Leeds, which will have a huge knock-on effect and will turn Leeds, interestingly, into a tourist centre. That has happened during a recession—Government programmes are helping to overcome the recession.

Mr. Henderson

I accept the economic point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson). a recession, it is right to take counter-cyclical action, first, to try to minimise the effects of the recession and, secondly, to prepare the economy to come out of the recession. It is right that there should be counter-cyclical action both on the capital account and on training to improve the efficiency of labour.

The Government's problem in dealing with the economy generally and urban policy is that for so many of the years since 1979, the economy has been in recession. When it has come out of recession, it has popped out for a short time, it has been overheated and it has had immediately to be dampened again, as happened in 1987–88. That is the failure of the economy. I accept the economic point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West; I wish that he and his colleagues would make that point more forcefully—I know that some of them have —to Ministers.

I have some sympathy with the Government on inner-city policy. It must be difficult for them to gauge how effective their policies are in changing life in our inner cities. Conservatives are not even sparse on the ground now in terms of political representation in our inner-city areas. A colleague said to me the other day that to find a Conservative representative in an inner-city borough is about as common as finding an English batsman appearing on the fifth day of a test in the West Indies.

I have some sympathy for Conservative Members and I especially have sympathy for them in relation to the London borough of Newham, on which the attention of the British people will be focused in the near future. I am pleased to tell the House that the Government have begun to prepare for their activities in the London borough of Newham; they have put advertisements in the local paper. An advertisement appeared on 16 February in the Newham Recorder under the heading: 'There's a job to be done. When I first read that, I thought that the Conservative party had finally recognised that everything was not right in our inner cities and that there was something that could be done to improve the lot of the people who live there.

I read on a bit further. The advertisement said: There's a job to be done… And you can help us to do it. The advertisement was published, incidentally, by the Newham Conservatives administrative centre, PO box 1014, London E7 0LZ. It continued: We are looking for people who live or work in Newharn and are interested in standing as Conservative Candidates in the May Borough Elections. If you want to see your money well spent, a Borough that is run efficiently … and you believe in the Conservative cause, contact us for more details of what being a Conservative Councillor means. I knew that the Government were keen on bids for inner-city resources, but I did not realise that they had started to put the post of a Conservative candidate in the local elections out to tender. That is taking competitive tendering a little too far.

I believed that this debate would be about the single regeneration budget and the integrated regional office. The Opposition support those initiatives in structural terms, but we and those involved in the urban aid programme want further assurances. We hope that the announcements will be accompanied by assurances that there will be genuine local determination of priorities, assurances that projects will be supported when they demonstrably have the support of local communities, assurances that local authorities will play an important role in guaranteeing democracy and local involvement and assurances on many of the mechanisms of the bidding process. The wider community will be convinced that there is a new direction only when the urban aid programmes are set in the context of a changed approach to economic policy generally.

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Gentleman mentioned some specific issues on which he wished to have assurances. The answer to each and every one of those questions is yes.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful for the Minister's broad response to some of those points. I assure him that the debate looks as if it will not be long enough. I shall write to him on a number of specific points that have been raised by some of the organisations involved.

The people know that even with all the aid programmes that Whitehall has conjured up, if there are acute problems in other parts of the economy, the problems of the inner-city areas will be critical. The test of whether the programmes will be effective in tackling the problems of decay will be whether they are part of a wider policy framework to lead us back to full employment and social cohesion.

There is another condition for the success of our inner-city policies. There needs to be an acceptance by all parties in our inner-city areas, such as Tower Hamlets, that Britain is a multiracial society and that solutions to inner-city regeneration must be rooted in a multiracial approach. If political parties pander to racial sectarianism, not only will tension be created, which will lead to the breakdown of democracy, but that tension will in itself be a major obstacle in the drive to regenerate inner-city areas. Selecting council candidates on the basis of racial grouping is wholly alien to the Labour party and to any multiracial road to the development of those areas and social cohesion.

Over the years, the Government have trumpeted their claims to try to demonstrate their commitment to urban renewal. We all remember—the Minister alluded to this —Baroness Thatcher on the staircase of Conservative central office on the night of the 1987 general election saying that something must be done about the inner cities. The 1992 Conservative manifesto stated: We take pride in our cities … The best way to restore the spirit of enterprise which first made our cities great is for local people, the private sector, the voluntary sector and local and central government, to work together in partnership. Some of my ancestors came from the inner-city areas of Edinburgh. I doubt whether those who lived in the 19th century would have recognised the greatness of the parts of Edinburgh in which they lived. Even if they recognised that other parts of Edinburgh were great, that greatness would not necessarily have been motivated by a spirit of enterprise. At least it is encouraging to see that the Government have recognised that there is a problem in the cities which must be tackled.

Mr. Spearing

I may be able to inform my hon. Friend about this point of major political significance. He may recall the declaration on the stairs of central office, and the surprise and pleasure of some and the concern of others, including Sir Leon Brittan. When asked, he said that if that was the policy, Ministers would of course do it. Does my hon. Friend realise that the question was asked in the context of the advances that the Conservative party had made in the election? Baroness Thatcher was asked, "What about the inner cities?" In replying, "Yes, we must do something about that too", she meant the elimination of Labour party representation in those areas, not their regeneration. Her remark has been widely misunderstood ever since.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for his definitive interpretation of Baroness Thatcher's comments. I did not realise that I was being unduly generous; I am tempted to withdraw my remarks. Even if I had to withdraw them, there would still be sufficient evidence that the Government, at least on the face of it, are committed to doing something about our cities.

The Minister's boss, the Secretary of State for the Environment, found time away from his religious journeying a couple of weeks ago to issue a press release. It said that the right hon. Gentleman today pledged to help people achieve the quality of traditional town centres which they value and put heart back into the cities. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West mentioned the Government's apparent change of policy. All I can ask is why the Government had to wait 15 years. Why has the country had to wait 15 years for the Government to wake up to the fact that if the urban policy on industrial and commercial development is to plunder the green belt and to build new centres, the inevitable impact is that whereas some activities used to take place in the inner cities, craters devoid of economic activity are created? When it is devoid of economic activity it will soon be devoid of people activity, which is exactly what has happened in many of our cities.

There have been many Government schemes, some of which were proudly proclaimed by the Minister. It is interesting to remember how many there have been. We have had the urban programme, designated districts, city grant, derelict land grant, urban development corporations, enterprise zones, estate action, city action teams, city challenge, inner-city task forces, regional assistance, regional enterprise grants, the enterprise initiative, English Estates, enterprise zones, simplified planning zones and training and enterprise councils.

Those schemes bear some resemblance to Graham Taylor's team sheets. As the country has found out, their success bears some comparison with the success of the English football team in recent years.

Mr. Thomason

In view of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, does he complain about the 87,602 jobs which will have been created by 1998 in city challenge areas?

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman has obviously got a brief from central office.

Mr. Thomason

Here are my notes.

Mr. Henderson

The hon. Gentleman has been wise enough to copy it in his own handwriting. I am afraid that central office researchers are increasingly missing the boat. I shall give one example that I intended to refer to later in my speech. However, the House may as well have it now. Great claims have been made about job creation in the London Docklands development corporation area. Some 13,000 new jobs were created from 1986 to 1993, but I enter the caveat that many of them were moved in from areas outside the development area. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, even within the area, 15,000 jobs have been lost in the same period, so that the net effect is a loss of 2,000 jobs.

I know what is happening in my area of Tyne and Wear. There is the same pattern. Some jobs have been created, although very few of them have been in manufacturing. The factory to which the Minister referred in Jarrow is one exception, and it is a welcome exception. However, it is not characteristic of job creation in the Tyne and Wear development corporation area. They have been mainly commercial jobs and many of them have been moved from other parts of Newcastle and Sunderland. The damning of the policy is that there are so many other manufacturing and service jobs linked to the previous manufacturing industries that have gone from that same area. That is the error of the Government's policy.

There have been many new buildings. I am not one of those with an interest in urban policy who say that we should not spend money on new buildings or that there should be minimal spend. I recognise that if there are to be new activities, whether industrial, commercial or community, we want to see them taking place in new property. We do not want industry and commerce and voluntary organisations using run-down old property. We want new property, but we want it in a context of community development and regeneration. That is the key test of whether an urban policy has been successful.

The test is not whether we can put up buildings, because if there is sufficient subsidy any developer or building contractor will tap into it, put up the buildings and say, "Thanks very much."

It is all very well to make claims about construction jobs being created in the interim period, but the test is what happens next. Will we get value for public money from that investment? We can get such value only if that property development is part of a regeneration of a complete area.

As the chairman of Tyne and Wear development corporation said on the radio this morning—if I heard him correctly—the test of successful development, including urban development corporations, is whether jobs have been created. I take that to mean a net creation of jobs because if it is not, there will be an ever downward spiral of economic difficulty. I agree with the chairman, Sir Paul Nicholson, that there must be that jobs test. In addition, there needs to be a test on the health of the people and on the homes that are made available for them.

In preparation for the debate, I asked the Library to take four examples of areas outside London that have received urban aid and three examples of areas in London where there will be a political contest in the near future. The Library has prepared figures for me on Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Wolverhampton. I hope that the Minister accepts that that is a reasonably fair representation of areas where there is an urban problem and which have received urban aid in one way or another. I hope that the Minister will also accept that Newham, Barking and Dagenham are reasonably representative of what has been happening to London's economy over the past 15 years and a reasonable test of whether Government policies have been successful. The by-elections in those areas should also be a test of what the people there believe about the Government's economic policy.

Despite all the schemes, unemployment figures, which are all for February, show that unemployment in Wolverhampton from 1979 to 1992 increased from 6 to 12.7 per cent. of the work force. In Liverpool, it increased from 12.4 to 14.6 per cent. In Manchester, it has risen from 5.8 to 10.1 per cent. and in Newcastle, it increased from 7.8 per cent.—which is a north Tyne statistic—in 1979 to 12.8 per cent. in 1994.

The figures from the three London jobcentres further demonstrate the failure of Conservative urban policies in London. In Barking, unemployment trebled between 1979 and 1994. In the East Ham jobcentre area, which covers the constituency of Newham, North-East, unemployment is now five time higher than in 1979. In Dagenham, unemployment has increased by three times since 1979.

Death rates are reasonably indicative of the health of all ages in the community. They have increased in the past 15 years in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and in the London borough of Newham.

Between 1979 and 1994, homelessness has risen by a fifth in Newcastle, by more than a quarter in Liverpool, by two and a half times in Wolverhampton and by more than six times in Manchester. In Barking, homelessness has more than doubled over the past 15 years while in Newham it has doubled. That is the record of 15 years of Conservative policies in four northern cities and three London boroughs.

Mr. Tony Banks

As my hon. Friend well knows, we in Newham have city challenge in Stratford. It is useful, good and big money and it is coming in, but what is done with it emphasises my hon. Friend's point because it is providing us with buildings—they are good buildings and we now have the best bingo hall in the country—but it is not providing us with jobs. The sort of thing that would improve the possibility of getting jobs in north-east and north-west Newham and, indeed, in the whole of the east end, would be for the Government to announce that there will be an international railway station at Stratford. That would really bring in jobs. If that happened, all the good buildings, including the bingo hall, would be stuffed with international visitors.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing the point that I was attempting to establish by giving his experience of what is happening in Newham. I had intended to be tempted into speaking about transport because it has an important part to play in urban regeneration. However, given the time that it has taken me to get to where I am and in view of the matters that I should like to address, I may leave that to some of my colleagues who may wish to emphasise it in their contributions.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has just left the Chamber because the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr.Henderson) gave statistics about the increase in homelessness in Manchester. Perhaps he can explain why Manchester city council, which is Labour controlled, owned 2,269 vacant dwellings on 1 April 1993.

Mr. Henderson

We can all barter statistics about empty houses.

Mrs. Gillan

Answer the question.

Mr. Henderson

I shall answer. In reply, I am tempted to raise the case of Brent. That takes us back to London, which we are discussing. Brent has the worst record for housing arrears in the country: 34.4 per cent. of the entire rent roll is uncollected by a Conservative council. I shall answer the specific point that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) has raised. The reason why Manchester and many other authorities, Conservative and Labour authorities around the country —there are pressure few Conservative councils left, as I am sure that the hon. Lady recognises—

Mrs. Gillan

I have one.

Mr. Henderson

She may have a Conservative council. If she has, we look forward to a future contest. The reason why a lot of homes are left empty is that councils have been deprived by central Government of grants to renovate and modernise homes to re-let. Councils have also been prevented by central Government from raising the resources at local level. That is the principal reason why there are empty houses. If we are talking about empty houses, the proportion of Government-controlled empty houses is far higher than that of local authorities. I refer the hon. Lady to Ministry of Defence statistics.

Mrs. Gillan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Henderson

I am tempted again.

Mrs. Gillan

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, of those 2,269 vacant dwellings, 1,306 were only waiting for minor repairs?

Mr. Henderson

I do not know what kind of problems the hon. Lady has faced when she holds surgeries in Amersham, but when I have held surgeries in the city of Newcastle, people say that they have been allocated a new house, but that there is a delay of three or four weeks; they ask whether there is something that I can do. When I ask what the problem is, they say that the sink is bust, or that the light fittings have gone, or that the panels in the doors have gone, or that the locks have broken. Such things happen in houses over a period of time. They happen in my house and I own my house, not the council. I know the costs of such repairs. Councils will tell hon. Members of the cost of making even minor repairs to houses, but they have been so deprived of resources that many cannot make the minor repairs that they wish to make. I must press on.

Why has that urban decay continued relentlessly? What is reason for the failure of policy? Essentially, the Government have not recognised, and will not face the fact that, they cannot have a successful targeted urban policy until they are successful with economic policy generally. With the huge damage caused by the north-south divide in the early 1980s, the two deep recessions of the 1980s and the early 1990s, and the increasing recession in southern parts of the country over the past three or four years, one cannot expect urban policy to make any dent on the problems and areas. It is a question of resources.

One of the problems of the urban policy is that, in many areas, the moneys that territories have received do not compensate for moneys that have been taken away from local authorities over a period of years because of changes in local authority law. There have been quite lengthy speeches and I do not want to prolong mine more than necessary. I would have given the House the advice of Professor Robson, who has advised not only the Labour party on urban policy, but the Government. It was his view after important work conducted in 1993 that much urban aid has not compensated for the damage done by the withdrawal of support.

Successive Ministers for the inner cities have come to the Dispatch Box and there is not a great track record of their staying in post for any length of time. There is hope for the Under-Secretary, because most Ministers eventually go on to better things. The current Chief Secretary to the Treasury who, I understand, the Minister and his boss blamed for the cut in the urban programme moneys next year, said when he was Minister for the inner cities that he believed in an urban programme and that he wanted to see the Government's policy building on the success of those programmes. Of course, he has changed his tune now that he is at the Treasury.

One of the problems with urban policies over the years has been that we have heard reasonably good statements on occasions from Ministers who have come into contact with the problems, but every time that they have gone to the Treasury to ask for resources to do something about those problems, the door has been kicked shut in their face. Organisations that are closely considering the single regeneration budget and the rules that will apply to tap into that have made the same comments. They see structural improvements, but do not see any commitment to the resources that they believe are necessary to make an impact on the problems.

The Government have claimed that one of the stronger parts of the new policy was that there was flexibility and that there were not 20 schemes from which to choose. They claimed that areas would not have to apply for one scheme or the other and that, if an area was knocked back in scheme three, it would not mean that it was not entitled entry to scheme 11, for example. The Government have pooled the money so that an area could make a bid based on its overall needs and claimed that there would be flexibility. They said that there was special money laid aside for flexibility. I am told by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and others that there is little money being laid aside which is flexible—perhaps as little as £100 million out of £1.6 billion, or £1.4 billion on the reduced figure. Even some of that small amount are moneys that were previously in estate action programme. There is no evidence of either more resources or of flexibility.

The third reason that has caused the failure of urban policies, as my hon. Friends have said, is that the emphasis on property development has been wrong. It does not work. There is not a trickle-down benefit. As I said to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason), even in the London Docklands development corporation area, which the Government would say is the area in the shop window, there is no net creation of jobs. If the Government wanted to demonstrate the success of the policy, one would have thought that they would ensure that, at least in the London docklands, they managed to create in one way or another a net job creation. The reality is that, with all their efforts, they have failed miserably to do that.

Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there were 60,000 jobs created indirectly in the docklands as a result of Conservative policies?

Mr. Henderson

That is a vague claim to make in the House. No, I do not accept it. If the hon. Gentleman wants to give me figures on where those jobs have been created and who created them, I should be happy to consider them with the House of Commons Library statisticians, who have given me their figures which show that there has been a reduction in jobs.

Regeneration is about not only jobs, but housing policies. If the Government had wanted to demonstrate that their housing regeneration policies were successful, they would have ensured that it had happened in docklands. Even there, they have not managed to do that, as the figures show. Between 1986 and 1991, the number of people on housing waiting lists in three dockland boroughs rose from 30,000 to 39,000—a 31 per cent. increase. In the same three dockland boroughs between 1981 and 1992, the number of people whom the Government classified as homeless increased from 1,781 to 4,829—an increase in homelessness of 173 per cent.

If the commercial side had been booming and if Canary wharf had been some success, the Government could at least have said that they had not regenerated jobs, that they had not managed to regenerate housing, but that they had a successful commercial property. The Government cannot even claim that. Canary wharf is still about half empty. Estimates range between 40 and 60 per cent. I remember that the predecessor of the Under-Secretary of State, who is now the Secretary of State for Wales, claimed that there would be pilgrims flocking down the River Thames from Marsham street and elsewhere wanting to be housed in Canary wharf.

Mr. Vaz

Only the Daily Mirror has done that.

Mr. Henderson

The Daily Mirror are perhaps the sole pilgrims. The only way in which the Government will be able to persuade the managers of Canary wharf that they can fill it is if they introduce internment for all the architects, the policy advisers and the other people who have wrongly advised them over the years and if they fill the top floor with the Tory rebels. That is the only way Canary wharf will ever be a success. It could then be renamed the docklands gulag.

One of the problems is that there has been a lack of co-ordination of transport policy. If public transport is not available, it does not matter which part of the country we are referring to; urban policy will not be a success. Urban policy depends on involving people with public transport. Many people who live in inner-city areas cannot afford private transport. Even if they could, they would only further congest their city streets, which would make their problems worse.

To some extent, I am pleased that the Government have accepted the view of the Audit Commission by acknowledging that there needs to be a structural change in policies. According to the Audit Commission, in the past, the Government had programme overkill in a strategic vacuum. I hope that the Minister accepts that a radical new approach is required. The Government may have tackled the problem of programme overkill—that is why the Opposition support the new structure—but they have not yet tackled the problem of the strategy for their urban policies.

For the love of me, I cannot understand why the Government will not face up to the need for development agencies in this country. Nearly every other comparable western European country has some kind of regional co-ordinating economically based body to co-ordinate the various efforts to regenerate regions.

People in London, the south-west, Yorkshire, Lancashire, the north-east and elsewhere, and their communities involving business, commerce, education and the public sector, all say that they need a co-ordinating body and a development agency. Such a body is crucial if there is to be real regeneration of our regions.The problems of urban decay in Tyneside cannot be dealt with in wards in Newcastle such as Scotswood and Elswick unless the economic problems of the north-east are tackled. The economic strategy can be successful only in that context.

Local authorities need a new role. The Government have recognised that the ad hoc schemes, the gimmicks, little quangos and perks for their friends on the quangos, have not done the job. They are as likely to fight among themselves as they are to produce a strategy to help an area. Local authorities were created 150 years ago or more to bring together local community issues, to speak on behalf of communities and to make policy accountable to communities. We need that input in respect of urban policy, as we need it in respect of many other policies.

I hope that the Government will accept that it is nonsense to say that we want to regenerate areas and put money in to do this or that and expect local authorities to play a key co-ordination role and then say, "By the way, we're going to cap your budget this year so you can't make any judgment about whether there is an appropriate level of economic resources to tackle the problem."

It is also nonsense to tell local authorities that we want them to co-ordinate industrial development and property development policies in an area, and then say, "By the way, we set the business rates nationally because we don't think that you have any role to negotiate with potential investors in your areas." That is clearly a policy error. I hope that the Minister will be honest enough to accept that he cannot have it both ways. He cannot expect co-ordination at local level and to deprive local authorities of the resources they need to make that succesful.

I want to try to bring my remarks to a conclusion, but one cannot ignore the important voluntary sector. It is not designed to be the co-ordinating body; it cannot prepare the strategic plan for an area. However, I do not believe that the strategic plan for an area can be successful unless the voluntary sector is fully involved and fully supports the proposals.

I want the voluntary sector to develop its welfare advice and provision role. I should like it to develop its sporting and cultural activities, especially among young people in the inner cities. I should like the voluntary sector to become involved in anti-crime action. In particular, I should like the voluntary sector to be recognised as the best means of allowing ethnic minorities in inner-city areas to make their own case for the things that they need to strengthen the communities in which they live. It is important that there should be experimentation in respect of economic regeneration. In that regard, I see a role for community business schemes operated by the voluntary sector.

As has been said in the House before, we need a vision for the future of our cities. We need a vision that gives cities vitality and which identifies cities as places of progress and places which we can look forward to and be proud of in the next millennium. Cities should be people places with shops, restaurants, culture, sport, education and festivals. In Europe, I see cities as places of festival which involve ordinary people. That helps to build the cohesiveness of cities.

People want to live in some cities in Britain. However, as in America, people want to live in too few of our cities. Over a long period, planning policy in this country and in America has generally moved richer people out of cities and left the poorer people in ghettos. Planning policy in Britain, as in America, is now also moving industry out of the cities. We want to avoid the American situation whereby both people and industry have moved out of the cities, leaving craters of destruction.

The Europeans have understood that problem better than we have—[Interruption.] It is being pointed out from a sedentary position that the Government are beginning to recognise that, as was shown from the Secretary of State's statement last week: better late than never. I wish that the Government had taken notice of what is happening in cities such as Bruges, Vienna, Florence and some of the French cities and the way they have retained their vitality.

Cities should be accessible places and that means public transport. They should be safe places where everyone in the community can enjoy social intercourse, walk around and meet their friends. Women should be able to feel safe in our British cities. The reality is that most women will not walk around British cities today. My mother will not go through London. She is not all that elderly, but she is frightened of London. She needs someone to travel with her. It is ridiculous that people in their sixties should be frightened of the inner cities. From the response of Conservative Members, it is clear that their families share that experience.

We need a new approach to our economy, to planning and to local government co-ordination. Above all, we need consistency, cogency and forceful programmes. We need to resource our urban programmes and to complement that with resources that local authorities can gather together. We need a programme that can make a difference, which can be radical and which can be part of an integrated strategy. If this debate contributes to that demand and need, we will not have wasted our time today.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker(Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. In the limited time available for this debate, many hon. Members hope to catch my eye. If hon. Members who are successful bear that in mind, I will be able to call as many hon. Members as possible.

11.27 am
Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)

I am grateful to be called, and I congratulate the Government on the success of their policies. I want to point the way forward in respect of several strategies.

One is amazed at the Opposition's gall in pouring cold water on the Government's policies and yet proposing almost no policies of their own except to spend more money and perhaps, to be fair, to involve the voluntary sector. In a throw-away remark, the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), even risked the anger of the football-supporting members of the public by pouring scorn on the English football team. We have witnessed amazing gall over the past half hour.

I wish to speak because, for my sins, I have had some experience of these matters. Between 1984 and 1988, I was the Government adviser in Downing street behind the veil of secrecy—[Interruption.] I hear all sorts of remarks bubbling up from the Opposition Benches at that. I then entered the private sector and was the chief executive of something called British Urban Development. Then I was the founding chairman of BURA—the British Urban Regeneration Association. As it so happens, this week I was elected to the chairmanship of the Tory Back-Bench committee on urban regeneration. Therefore, for my sins, I have had that experience.

Mr. Vaz

Is the hon. Member getting any money for it?

Mr. Booth

There is no money.

It is often thought that the problem of inner-city challenge is one of our time. It is to some extent but it is as old as the hills as well. Those people who have been on holiday to Pompeii have seen the ruins of an ancient city regenerated three times. All the main cities in Europe from London to Rome have been rebuilt through the centuries. Uniquely, the Tories—to some extent, this was illustrated by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North—go to all the people, regardless of whether we have councillors or Tory Members in those inner-city areas. We do it as a matter of principle; we are the party of all the people—the one-nation approach. [Interruption.] There is terrific cynicism, but Tory Members know that that is where we come from. We do not go in there simply to look after our own people.

We also come from a different standpoint; we come forward because we are committed to tackling inefficiency. There are 800,000 empty housing properties in Britain, many in urban areas—the empty properties in Manchester have already been referred to—and there are 150,000 derelict acres in Britain. That has reduced from 200,000 at the time when I worked in Downing street in the mid-1980s. We care about people.

Another "dereliction" in inner cities is unemployment —that matter has been raised by several Labour Members. Of course, we are concerned about unemployment. I pay tribute to an hon. Member who unfortunately cannot be here today—my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). He has had 20 years' experience of these matters. In 1980, he wrote "New Life for Old Cities" and in 1990 he wrote "Public Land Utilisation Management Schemes"—PLUMS—which raised many of those points. Unfortunately, he had to be in his constituency today.

It is a mosaic of different factors balancing both people and property. We at least recognise that. Curiously and ironically, it is also a balance between the corporatist approach and the free market approach. It is undeniable that derelict land is tackled partly on a dirigiste policy through development corporations. It must be partly a direction from the centre so as to create the conditions for the market to bubble up. Therefore, we have an irony that is perhaps not noted in other parts of Government policy.

We also have the partnership approach—the Minister led on that—which is so evident and so necessary to bring the strengths of both the private sector and the public sector together. We need imagination, patience and determination, and the Government have that. In a way, it is two concentric circles. We start with the economy, which will create jobs. We must then deal with the environment, transport and the infrastructure, which must lead to housing. We often find that housing—I have seen it in Liverpool—has been built ahead of the creation of jobs, and people are miserable without employment. We are dealing with crime in the safer-cities approach, and with training and education and health, which is not always recognised as a factor in urban regeneration. All those progress points lead to the economy, where we start our circle.

Uniquely, the economy in inner cities is a function of the risk taker and the private sector. In all other parts of the two concentric circles, there must be a partnership. However, the risk taking, the enterprise and the initiative which sparks the economy is the private sector's unique function. At least that is recognised fundamentally by the Government. We do get the climate right. Labour Members have been cynical about our approach. However, we recognise that the economy is the silk worm and the vital organ in the middle of the exercise.

I shall quickly review what we have, because I know that time is short. Hopefully, we may improve our policies. I shall refer to the economy. We have often forgotten to put the economy first, but we have done so in many other respects. We have often had a lack of recognition that people who deal with inner cities have huge ground problems of pollution. Anyone who takes over a British Gas site must deal with phenols of 100 years.

We must recognise that often the assets of many companies are registered with the bank with illusory figures. It is more than the lives of the owners of the companies are worth to revalue the assets, although they may have fallen in value and are blocking a vital piece of redevelopment. Manchester is an obvious case which we must address.

We must also answer the curious question whether urban regeneration is a long or short-term phenomenon. We have got it broadly right. Mostly it must be a long-term policy. Baltimore—the example that is held up as the best in the world—began its progress in 1956. Hong Kong would not be the success that it is today if people had taken only a long-term approach to investment in the late 1980s. Therefore, we must recognise short-term policies as well.

In the environment, we need to recognise patient money and patient land—in other words, people should be allowed to use land for redevelopment without money returned today, and in return they must pay back the money in perhaps 20 years' time when the development has succeeded. The Government need to recognise patient money and the whole concept of it. I hope that Lord Walker, with the new partnership initiative English Partnerships that he is leading, will recognise that.

We need new deals with regard to sites of special scientific interest. We must recognise that there are all sorts of ways in which we can improve the environment of inner cities, not only the curmudgeonly go-by-the-book rule. We can benefit the environment in different ways. We need imagination in this respect, but there is no time to go into that now.

We must also accept that grants alone are not always successful. I was involved in proposals in Leicester where we were offered grants from the Department of the Environment. We could not go ahead because the people in my group were unable to see a return on their investment at the end of the day. We may well need—I hope that the Treasury will listen to this—long-term loans that in the short term are not paid back with interest, and I hope that more grants are turned into loans for the sake of the taxpayer.

I shall speak briefly about transport. In the early 1980s, before we got it right—we had been struggling with it for a long time—we did not recognise adequately that transport had to be a priority. I remember asking people in Downing street why the Secretary of State for Transport was not at meetings. That has now been recognised and he now attends them. We have now got the transport infrastructure in docklands right, a matter referred to by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North.

In Britain, we recognise that our transport system and the provision of it is much too slow. In Essex, where we were doing an urban regeneration project, we were told that it would take at least eight years to get a spur road off the main road for a particular urban regeneration site. It has been well reported that in France they can get a spur road off a motorway for urban regeneration in six months. The key to it, and what we should recognise and change, is that better compensation is needed, as well as powers for speedier consultation with the local people. Housing is vital, but it must be linked with jobs, crime prevention, local facilities and even energy supply. We need to go beyond the strictures of the planning system to harness the aspirations and desires of the local community.

In Pittsburgh, there is an example of involving communities in planning which is called a RHUDAT system. On a Friday evening, before a proposal to regenerate an inner city is made, a local community is taken into a school hall. They sit there on and off all weekend discussing what they want, and they also hear the planner say what is impossible. Between them, they come up with a community solution which helps everyone. It means that the redevelopment will be speedier, and that everyone will get something from the proposals.

That sort of community planning goes beyond the strict and, if I may say so, dull rules which we have had since 1948 in our town and country planning system. That is the imaginative approach which we need for the future for housing and community development.

There are 10 cities in our crime initiative, and we must build on the neighbourhood approach. I hope that that will be developed later this year.

We have had exchanges in the House on training and education. In Germany, what is fascinating is not the overall figures—we can hold our flag high in relation to general provision—but the fact that the German chambers of commerce do not allow small businesses to start unless those involved are qualified in business.

The evidence in Southampton and in various parts of the country is that the success rate of small businesses is far higher when those involved have gone through training before they go to a bank to borrow money and start in business. The rate goes up from about 40 per cent. to nearly 70 per cent. success in small businesses if they go through a training process.

We must look at that, although I hope that we will not go down the stricter German chamber of commerce route which might even have stopped Henry Ford from setting up in Dagenham. It is no secret that Henry Ford was barely literate, but he had the entrepreneurial skills to be the founder of Ford Motors.

The next point on the circle is health. There is a Cabinet Committee called the EDR. When one is inside Government, those initials are like an umbrella. There is security in them—one knows them and likes them. That is fine. But outside Government, they are a barrier to all of us. I had better say that EDR stands for economic development and—I had better get it right—regeneration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Well done."] Thank you. I will struggle through the interpretation of the initials.

The committee does not have a representative from the Department of Health. If it is correct that the safety of our cities involves planning to avoid crime, we also need to build health into cities.

I commend what the Government have done in urban regeneration since 1979. The development corporations have brought in £30 billion of investment which might not necessarily have gone to Britain. Much of the investment brought into docklands has been made because of a choice of Britain rather than Germany. We should commend those people involved in docklands and in Teesside, such as Mr. Duncan Hall and others, who have been assiduous in bringing investment into Britain through the vehicle provided by the Government of the development corporations.

Enterprise zones have been mentioned. One of the outstanding examples of success that I should illustrate is the way in which Corby was transformed. No fewer than 6,500 people were put out of work there when the steelworks failed in 1981. Within eight years, only 54 out of original 6,500 were still out of work. That was due to the advent of an enterprise zone in harnessing investment.

Business initiatives, as my hon. Friend the Minister has mentioned, have been outstanding. One must add that the climate is right in so many other private sector initiatives, such as the Prince's Youth Trust, Business in the Community and others. The Prince's Youth Trust alone helped to start 20,000 businesses, and that is a fantastic performance.

There has been a survey of the improvement of the condition of houses in inner cities, and there has been a 24 per cent. rise in the condition of houses between 1981 and 1991.

Lastly, there is the level of funding. The figure of £1.4 billion has been spoken about for urban regeneration this year. Cynical Members might recall that, from 1974 to 1975, the Labour party reduced funding for inner cities by nearly 25 per cent. The average level of its commitment to inner cities was £25 million from 1974 to 1979. Even if one is being fair and uprates that to today's figures, it is still only a little over £100 million, compared with £1.4 billion today.

However, there is more than £1.4 billion. If we add Scottish and Welsh selective assistance, employment training money and the housing benefit budget to the figure of £1.4 billion, that brings it up to £4 billion. But that is not the final figure spent on urban regeneration. If one adds education, health, police and the rate support grant to inner cities, one gets a figure of between £8 billion and £12 billion a year.

We have a fine record. Much has been done, and there is much to do. The Government's record is based on people and property, and not on property alone. It is based on economic success, and not museum status. It is not so much "back to basics", but forward to fundamentals.

11.47 am
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Thousands of my constituents live in deep poverty, and often in despair. Thousands regard it as an achievement —almost a triumph—to get from one day to another. If they had been in the Chamber and had listened to the one hour and six minutes of the cheap, glib speech made by the Minister who has been put up by the Government to speak about their lives, and about their past, present and tremulous future, I do not know whether they would have wept or would have wished to throw stones. When the Minister talks about the continuous regeneration of inner cities and about the "good life" in inner cities, he is, for thousands of my constituents, making a grim joke. Life for my constituents is grim, hard, difficult and often hopeless.

I should like to describe to the House the circumstances of one young man who came to my surgery last month. His name was Mike, and he was a very nice young man indeed. He gets £30 a week income support, and lives in private rented accommodation. The limits on the amount of money that the local authority can contribute towards his rent mean that he has £15 a week rent to pay. He therefore has £15 a week to feed and clothe himself, and to pay for gas, electricity, water and council tax. That is his life today in an inner city which the Minister said was being regenerated by the Government. Like so many people in my constituency, he does not know how to live from day to day.

The Minister spoke about Government policies and of how people could use their cars, the assumption being that people have cars to use. Thirty-two per cent. of the population nationally do not have a car. In the best of the six wards in my constituency, 54.1 per cent. do not have a car. In the Gorton, South ward, 61.6 per cent. have no access to a car. In Longsight, 63.8 per cent. have no access to a car.

The young man Mike, of whom I spoke, lives on income support. In the ward in which he lives, 33.7 per cent. of the population live on income support.

Mr. Baldry

If the right hon. Gentleman reads my speech in Hansard, he may realise that he has misunderstood what I said. I said that we should ensure that places of work, shopping and other city activities should be accessible to people who do not have cars. I said that we should not build a structure entirely dependent on people having access to cars. So I am at one with the right hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Mr. Kaufman

I only wish that my constituents had places of work to go to. I shall deal with that matter in a moment. I only wish that my constituents had money to spend in shops. The Minister, coming from Banbury, simply does not understand what life is like in the inner city of Manchester and in my constituency, which is an inner-city constituency.

Let us consider the sort of people who live in the inner city. They are not the thrusting entrepreneurs about whom the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) talked. In my constituency we have a huge number of lone parents struggling along. The national percentage of lone parents is 3.7 per cent. In the Longsight ward of my constituency, it is 9.8 per cent. In Gorton, South, it is 10.9 per cent. In my constituency as a whole, it is 8.4 per cent.

Let us examine the poverty of those families. Of children in primary schools in my constituency who take school meals, more than a third qualify for free school meals. Of children in secondary schools who take school meals, more than half qualify for free school meals. Hon. Members should bear in mind the fact that it is difficult to qualify for a free school meal.

Let us consider housing benefit, which is not sufficient to help my constituent Mike. In Manchester, 46 per cent. of households have to depend on housing benefit. That is the highest percentage in the country. In the Gorton, North ward of my constituency, 63.5 per cent. of the people have to depend on housing benefit.

Conservative Members may well ask why my constituent Mike, like so many other of my constituents, lives on benefit and why he does not get a job. He would love to get a job. It would be a transformation of his life. But in the Longsight ward unemployment is 18.3 per cent. Male unemployment is 25.5 per cent. In the ward in which that young man lives, unemployment among 16 to 19-year-olds is 48.9 per cent. Some people leave school and after years have no job and no prospect of getting a job.

In the Fallowfield ward, male youth unemployment is 46.4 per cent. In the Rusholme ward, it is 38.1 per cent. Among young women unemployment is often as bad or almost as bad. In the Rusholme ward, female youth unemployment is 42 per cent. It is 37 per cent in Longsight and 32.5 per cent. in Fallowfield.

When people hear about the problem that Mike faces with his rent, they may ask why he does not move away from the private landlord who is ripping him off. Of course, some people are completely without a home. Homelessness has become the biggest industry in my constituency. My constituency was once one of the major engineering centres of the country. I recently went to the York railway museum and saw a superb locomotive manufactured at the works in Gorton.

In Manchester, between 1984 and 1991, we lost a third of all our manufacturing jobs: the number has fallen from 47,000 to 32,000. Our biggest industry is homelessness. I live next door to a block of 35 flats which are now used solely by homeless people. The owner is paid by the council tax payer and the taxpayer £468,000 a year for making the property available for the homeless. People are becoming millionaires on homelessness. Yet if that money was spent not on homelessness but on building houses, we could get 15 brand new three-bedroom houses out of the money being chucked away to make the owners of that property and so many other owners of property rich.

Mrs. Gillan

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Lady was chucked away from Manchester in 1989 by a majority of 39,000. I do not believe that she is qualified to intervene on the subject of Manchester, particularly as she presumably intends to trot out the Conservative central office statistic about empty properties in Manchester. I shall deal with that simply, without her smirking about it.

As Conservatives Members know, the housing revenue account of the city of Manchester is ring-fenced. Repairs and maintenance have to be paid for out of the rents of council tenants. We are unable to made the necessary repairs to make the empty houses habitable. I visit them regularly. I go round my constituency. I do not have to visit my constituency; I live in it. I live in the inner city; I visit my friends and my neighbours. I do not come to Manchester briefly as a parliamentary candidate and then pop back to Buckinghamshire.

Mrs. Gillan

The right hon. Gentleman has chosen to reduce the debate to a personal level. I should like to point out that I nursed Manchester, Central Euro-constituency for 18 months and had a home in that constituency for six months of that period. Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that the Labour-controlled council in Manchester ordered an independent inquiry into its housing accounts after several multi-million pound mistakes were uncovered? The report in January 1991 said that the council had concealed that major subsidy miscalculations and accounting errors had been made.

Mr. Kaufman

I congratulate the hon. Lady on living for six whole months in the city of Manchester. My constituents have to spend their whole lives there, putting up with the policies of the Government. I do not intend to defend any errors made by Manchester city council. The hon. Lady might know that the severest critic of the council in my constituency is me. I send it hundreds of letters every month on problems relating to my constituency. However, the hon. Lady should know that Manchester city council is hamstrung in helping my constituents because of the policies of the Government, whose little bit of briefing the hon. Lady has just read out.

In 1990–91, the housing investment allocation made by the Government to Manchester was £47,657,000. For the current year, it has been reduced to £25,227,000. That is in current terms, not real terms. We are not able to deal with the problem. In 1980—the final year of the housing investment programme allocation of the Labour Government—913 council houses were completed in Manchester. Last year, we completed six and started none. It is impossible for someone such as my constituent Mike to find somewhere in the public sector to live.

It is also an impossible situation for people suffering overcrowding. Having read out her briefing note, the hon. Lady has scooted out of the Chamber—no doubt to return to her leafy constituency of Buckinghamshire, after her brief acquaintance with Manchester. [Interruption.] I will not have Conservative Members of Parliament for prosperous home county constituencies getting up and reading from a Tory party briefing which has been thrust into their hands, getting it on to the record and then leaving the Chamber, not to intervene in the debate any further. I will not have it, and I will not be jeered at by Conservative Members.

Mr. Baldry

The right hon. Gentleman should understand that the comments he is receiving from this side of the House are due to the fact that none of us can believe that a senior Privy Councillor of this House is behaving in such a churlish way.

Mr. Kaufman

A senior Privy Councillor of this House is concerned about the poverty, despair and degradation of his constituents who send him here. They do not send me here as a Privy Councillor; my constituents send me here to speak on their behalf because they need a voice in this place in the light of what the Government are doing to them.

In my constituency we have five times the national level of overcrowding. The lack of housing amenities dwarfs the national statistics. In the main, my constituents cannot afford to become owner-occupiers. Against the national level of 67 per cent. owner-occupation, in the Fallowfield ward we have a level of 35.9 per cent. and in Longsight it is 37.4 per cent. My constituents cannot afford to buy houses and there are no local authority houses available for rent.

If my constituents have housing, they have to deal with the health problems. There are terrible problems relating to infestation by cockroaches and rats, and problems arising from the concentration of lead in drinking water. Such problems have repercussions on people's health. In my constituency, 9 per cent. of births are low-weight births compared with a national average of 6.9 per cent. In my constituency, there is 4.5 per cent. post neo-natal mortality —that is, the deaths of children from the age of 28 days to one year—compared with 3 per cent. nationally.

Because of the state of the national health service, children in my constituency suffer more than double the national level of tooth decay, missing teeth and other dental problems. Heart disease among my constituents is far above the national average and the Manchester health authorities have demonstrated that psychological distress is far above the national level—particularly for women.

They are the problems facing my constituents which are exacerbated by Government policy. Children attend schools that are very different from the idealised pictures painted by the Government. The Department for Education publishes league tables; I wish it would publish league tables about the state of repair of educational buildings in constituencies.

In Manchester, we need to spend, at the most basic objective level, £10 million per year on day-to-day repairs and maintenance of schools. The Government are allowing us to spend only one quarter of that amount—£2.6 million. In some schools in my constituency, pieces of the ceiling fall on children's heads. Areas of schools have had to be closed because they are not safe for the children and teachers. In one school, music classes have had to be taken on the stairs.

That is the kind of educational opportunity offered to my constituents. It may be why, in the Gorton, North ward of my constituency, only 4.3 per cent. of the working population have higher educational qualifications and why, in the Gorton, South ward, 6.15 per cent. have higher educational qualifications. Only 7.6 per cent. of the population have managerial and professional qualifications. That is the kind of opportunity that the Government provide for my constituents and their children.

I have spoken about the very high levels of psychological distress in my constituency. One of the reasons for that may be the extraordinarily high incidence of crime in my constituency. There are enormous numbers of domestic burglaries—6,050 in 1992—car thefts, thefts from cars and arson and damage. We have an extremely high rate of robbery.

There is racial harassment, which the Minister glibly tried to explain away today, caused by a lack of resolution on the part of the Government to do anything about this problem. Week after week, people from the Asian and Chinese communities suffering as a result of racial harassment come to my surgeries. My constituency has a drug problem which simply did not exist 10 years ago. A pub outside which drugs were openly sold in daylight has been closed down through co-operation between the police and the brewers. The police do their best. We have an excellent chief constable who creates an admirable ethos within the police force. Yet, despite all the efforts of the police, the clear-up rate of crime in my city is only 28 per cent.

There has been a devastating reduction in the service provided by the social services department. Manchester city council used to have the best social services department in the country; now it is simply unable to cope with the problems which confront it. Because of the reductions in Government funding—the reductions in grants and reductions in the urban programme, including the effect on section 11 programming—more than 60 residential homes in our city have had to be closed. They include family group homes, small children's homes, family centres, minimum support homes, residential homes for the disabled, residential homes for adults with learning disabilities and residential homes for the elderly. That is the kind of thing that is happening in the Gorton Division.

As a Member of Parliament for an inner-city constituency, I now have to spend a great deal of time writing begging letters in an attempt to scrape up money to fund the most basic activities in my constituency. The Gorton community centre, which is located in an area of great deprivation, is in difficulty and fears that it may have to close. The Birch community centre almost did close down. These centres are located in areas of great poverty and provide services for the unemployed and lone mothers and lunches for old people.

My constituency has lost amenities. The Victoria baths, located just across the road from my constituency, has closed, as have two pet corners in parks in my constituency. Children in one of the most built-up areas of the country are prevented from seeing animals in their natural habitat.

The Government have taken millions from our city and especially from the poor. The hon. Member for Finchley mentioned the Tory philosophy of one nation, but the Disraeli philosophy of two nations affects my constituents, who are part of the second nation. The Government have brought about the greatest ever redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich in any democratic country. Via tax handouts, they have transferred to the most wealthy people billions of pounds that were benefiting people who are living in poverty.

In spite of their problems and the fact that the Government have exacerbated them, my constituents are fine people who are full of resource and are creating their own community networks.

Mr. Booth

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny the figures? The Labour Government reduced spending on inner cities by 23 per cent. in 1974. It was on average £25 million per year, and £36 million a year was the most that they spent during their time in office.

Mr. Kaufman

We did not need that sort of programmed spending. Two thirds of local authority expenditure was made up of rate support grant. At that time, enormous sums of money were available in general grants, such as housing subsidy. Those grants have gone.

I can say that we did not need that sort of spending because I lived then, as now, in my constituency. We did not need it because general funding enabled us to fund our programmes, and because we were also able to fund them through a sensible rating system. That was before the days of the poll tax, council tax and capping. In those days, such programmed spending was merely a useful addition because general funding was ample.

Mr. Booth


Mr. Kaufman

I shall not give way again to the hon. Gentleman. I recognise his courtesy, but, partly because of the anger that I displayed at certain interventions by Conservative Members, I have spoken far longer than I intended and I do not wish to deprive hon. Members on both sides of the House of the opportunity of speaking.

My constituents will fend for themselves whenever they can, but lone mothers on income support, unemployed people who are desperate for a job and homeless people with no prospect of a house all find it very difficult to fend for themselves.

I first became a Member of Parliament representing Manchester 24 years ago, when we did not have beggars on the streets, but we have them now and they have appeared during the time, that this Government have been in office, in spite of all the urban funding that the hon. Member for Finchley mentioned.

Money for the Olympic bid is the only money that the Government have boasted about putting into our city. We are grateful and we are sorry that we did not get the games, but Manchester is still there after that bid. I am sorry to have to say that it seems to have been forgotten and rejected by the Government.

My constituents of all ages despair of what is happening to them. At surgeries, and not simply on occasional visits but as I walk the streets of my constituency every weekend, they ask me what I am going to do to get the Government out so that they can get a decent start. I recognise that we shall have another three years of this Government and that is why I beg of them not to believe that they help the inner cities by talking in all those grand and abstract phrases. Thousands of people are living in difficulty and often in despair. They look to the House to do something about it. They also look to me to do something about it, which is why I do not offer a scintilla of apology for the strength of my speech. My constituents expect no less.

12.14 pm
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was sincere and well meant, and part of it was plainly offensive. He criticised Conservative Members representing the south of England for contributing to this debate. That makes it sound as though the north of England has a monopoly of poverty and deprivation. My constituents are being asked to pay for the programmes, and they are entitled to a say in how the money is spent.

Mr. Kaufman

I do not criticise hon. Members for taking part in this debate, but I criticise those who have had cheap propaganda thrust into their hands, and who intervene to get it on the record.

Mr. Ottaway

The right hon. Gentleman proves my point. He was probably too busy composing his speech early this morning to listen to the "Today" programme, when spokesmen from Glasgow and Sunderland were invited to comment on inner-city regeneration programmes. Far from being critical, they were very supportive. If my memory serves me well, both those regions are Labour controlled. One spokesman said that things had improved during the past 15 years, which coincides with the past 15 years of Conservative government.

The right hon. Member for Gorton should recognise that Manchester is entitled to £957 of grant per head each year —a higher grant than any other part of the country. If members of his authority adopted the same attitude as those representing Glasgow and Sunderland, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would not speak in such terms of despair.

I have mentioned the success in Glasgow and Sunderland, but it was not always the case. In the 1970s, because of the rundown estates there, it became obvious that the old way of funding inner cities was not working. Unless the people who lived on the estates were willing and enthusiastic that they should flourish, they continued to decline. As they did, the enterprising, the young and the employed sought a brighter future outside those rotting estates. They wanted a decent quality of life and a good education for their children, so they left and went to more prosperous areas, where housing, planning and local government were not a political football.

Whom did they leave behind?—the elderly, who had lost the capacity to increase their earnings and get out, the unemployed and the one-parent families. In the 1980s, it became obvious that we could no longer return to the bad old ways of simply throwing public money at the problem. The introduction of partnership schemes, which culminated in city challenge, revitalised such areas.

I have a strong vision of my old constituency in Nottingham, where the then Government developed two high-rise estates in the 1960s in a hurry. After 15 years, they were rotten, damp, rundown buildings, smelling of urine, which could not be called homes to anyone. It was right that they were demolished. The sting in the tail, however, is that the council tax payers of Nottingham will continue to pay for those flats well into the next century. People who were not even born when they were built will be young, married and settled in Nottingham, and still paying for buildings that they never knew.

An old warehouse at the other end of the town became a model project. It was a joint venture between the Government and a private partnership, under the urban development grant scheme of the early 1980s. The attractive and stylish flats for the young people of Nottingham are there for all to see. The key is that those flats were privately owned, which gave people a pride in the building.

At the end of the 1980s, with city challenge, local authorities were invited to bid for projects if they could introduce private money to match central Government funds. That scheme was an outstanding success, and many projects today have resulted from the competitive pressures that were introduced. I say the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that I hope that we shall be able to move into a third round of city challenge and build on the successes of the past.

The new single regeneration budget will pull together all the themes of the past decade, and the money will go where people think that it is most needed. That will encourage regeneration, economic development and industrial competitiveness by providing a more flexible and responsive system. That is good news for our inner cities. Local partnerships will be encouraged to bid for resources from the new budget, following the principle of the city challenge programmes. Projects to improve the standard of housing, tackle crime, encourage more tenant and community participation and improve social housing stock deserve our full support.

We do not only need to improve physical resources. We can put in place industrial and commercial sites and ensure that the economic climate is able to support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses, but we need more. Their success also depends on the success of our human resources. That is why Conservative Members know that investment in the skills and training of local people is just as important. The Government's education reforms are designed to raise standards throughout the country, but nowhere is that needed more than in our inner cities.

A network of city technology colleges is being established in urban areas. An especially successful one is the Harris CTC on the Croydon-Lambeth borders. The inner cities have also benefited especially from a range of employment and training programmes.

However, Conservative Members are realists. We know that inner cities cannot operate in isolation from the rest of the country. There has been a worldwide recession—there is no argument about that. The United Kingdom has suffered, as have the United States, Japan and Germany. There has been a slowdown in the economy, which has made life even more difficult in the inner cities.

It is not only the recession that has badly affected our inner cities, many of which are now virtual no-go areas. We all know where they are—parts of Lambeth, Hackney, Newham, Southwark, Liverpool and many more. There are still places in our urban areas out of which people are desperate to move. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who unfortunately has left the Chamber, said, they are too frightened to walk the streets. They are not even safe in their own homes. The schools are failing totally to educate their children and, consequently, unemployment remains unacceptably high.

Apart from those factors, what else do those areas all have in common? Their local authorities are dominated by the Labour party. The House should not be duped by the so-called "caring" image of Westminster Labour party. The real Labour party is to be found in many town halls up and down the country—town halls that issue council tax bills far in excess of those of well-managed Tory authorities, and deliver the quality of services that one would not wish on one's worst enemy. That exposes the reality of Labour—the waste, the inefficiency, the incompetence and, most of all, the irrelevance.

The "loony left" is alive and well in Labour town halls throughout the country and one does not have to look far to find examples of its lunacies. Bristol's Labour council objects to the use of black bin-liners because they are racist and Birmingham's Labour council spent £70,000 on translating Asian nursery rhymes into English. Even the Labour party has found it difficult to say anything complimentary about some of the Labour-run councils. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) described Brent in 1990 as monumentally incompetent. Keva Coombs, the former leader of Liverpool council, said that it was the worst landlord in Liverpool, probably in the country.

It is not merely incompetence that hampers our inner cities under Labour control. I read in a newspaper that Lambeth council had paid the present hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) £350 a day to co-ordinate opposition to two proposed housing action trusts in the borough.

If anyone tells us that Labour has changed, consider the town councils. It took us 10 years to repair the damage that the Labour party did to the economy, and it may take us another 10 to repair the systematic damage that it has wreaked on our society. Central Government can only do so much for the inner cities when key sectors such as education and housing are controlled by left-wing authorities.

However, some authorities understand the problems and have the will, the means and the determination to tackle them. There is plenty of proof among well-managed, efficient and cost-effective Conservative-run councils throughout the country, not least of which is my own borough of Croydon. There is no reason why the sensible approach that it has adopted in areas such as housing and education could not be adopted in other London boroughs. If it were, I am sure that there would be not only a dramatic improvement in the quality of life but cleaner streets, a better managed housing stock and improved educational results—all for a lower council tax. Just as importantly, we might be able to halt the ever-increasing drift of people and business away from the inner cities to the suburbs.

The borough of Croydon is one of the most populous in London. For the past two years, its council has introduced a housing strategy which has been judged by the Department of Environment to be among the best in the country. That has placed Croydon in the premier division of housing authorities. Croydon's housing objectives are simple—to meet local housing needs, to maintain and improve stock and to extend choice.

Croydon has confronted and tackled a major homelessness problem. In 1992, more than 2,000 households were living in temporary accommodation and that figure was projected to increase to more than 3,000 on the then current trends, but, at the end of February this year, the numbers in temporary accommodation had fallen to 1,100, and the trend is firmly downwards. Progress is being made in housing people from the waiting list, and tenants needing a transfer. By 1 March this year, 714 households had been transferred and 303 households housed from the waiting list.

How is the council achieving that? It has built partnerships with the private and public sector agencies, pursued innovative solutions to any problems that it has encountered, and maintained an ever-necessary awareness of value for money. Yes, Conservative-controlled Croydon council has been extremely successful, but, by following its approach, so could the Lambeths and Hackneys of the country. Such a vision helps communities to thrive. Our inner cities need common-sense answers to everyday problems, not the hackneyed socialist dogma foisted on them by Labour-run authorities.

Is it any wonder that Lambeth, which has a larger debt than Haiti and Botswana combined, fails miserably to maintain its housing stock? Contrast that with Croydon council's record. By the end of this financial year, more than 6,000 properties will have benefited from works programmes, including central heating, window renewals and energy efficiency measures. Those works are planned to improve a further 7,000 properties next year.

Conservative Members recognise that the problems of increasing crime that confront us today are due in part to the disaster that befell our education system in the 1960s and 1970s. The Conservative party plans a return to fundamentals in education. It might not sound fashionable, but it does sound right. How can people expect to find a job if they cannot read, write or add up?

We cannot allow our citizens to be deprived of a proper education, which is what is happening in dozens of Labour-run councils throughout the country. All too often, socialist education policies turn out half-educated, anti-social thugs who are designed only for the dole queue or the criminal justice system. We are all paying the price for that madness in higher crime and higher unemployment, when nine of the 10 local education authorities with the worst GCSE results in England are controlled by Labour.

Contrast that with the results achieved in Croydon. We came seventh out of 108 education authorities in the age seven reading tests; 44 per cent. of 16-year-olds gained grades A to C in their GCSE exams; and more than three quarters of students stayed on in school or college, a figure which places Croydon 11th in the country.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

In referring to anti-social behaviour and poor education results in inner cities, hon. Members on both sides recognise that poor education leads to poor employment prospects, which in turn lead to crime because people have nothing better to do and no other way of sustaining themselves. But my hon. Friend's point about further education is important.

The problems of young men—it would be unfair to suggest that the problem applies equally to both sexes, as it is predominantly a male problem—would be greatly alleviated if inner cities were more vocational and other training were encouraged, as the Government have done. That would follow the same line as my hon. Friend's argument.

Mr. Ottaway

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes his point well. Croydon council is pursuing such a policy, and I suggest that other councils, such as Manchester, may care to follow it.

It is not just the Labour-controlled local authorities that are guilty of such conduct. The most famous example of mismanagement in an inner city area must be in Tower Hamlets, Britain's poorest borough. In 1986, Tower Hamlets council spent £20 million of council tax payers' money on creating seven neighbourhood councils with no function except to duplicate facilities unnecessarily and waste scarce resources.

Not content with wreaking havoc in Tower Hamlets, the Liberal Democrats are proposing the same lunatic scheme elsewhere in London. Their record in other areas of the country only serves to prove that our inner cities are better off without them. Their education policy simply echoes Labour's failed and outdated methods. In Tower Hamlets, just 18.9 per cent. of pupils attain GCSE grades A to C —the third worst results in the country. Liberal Democrats would get rid of grant-maintained schools, CTCs and the assisted places scheme. In true left-wing style, they adhere faithfully to the old adage that, if something shows a sign of success, it should never again see the light of day.

In my neighbouring council of Sutton, Liberal councillors even underwent psychological tests to reveal what we could have told them for nothing. Apparently, the tests said that they lacked clear objectives and agreed goals, and could be weak at follow-through on their decisions. The tests also found evidence of unresolved tension in the group. The councillors could resolve that tension by carrying on with their psychological tests and letting the Conservatives get on with the job of running their borough.

In the 1970s, people said that we could never tackle the huge economic problems that had made Britain the laughing stock of the world. They said that we could not revive Britain's entrepreneurial spirit or halt the dominance of the trade unions. Well, we did.

Now, some people say that nothing can be done to restore pride in our inner cities, repair and replenish the housing stock and encourage commerce and industry back into sites that have been left derelict. I am convinced that the Government's announcement of a single regeneration budget will be a major contributing factor, just as ridding the inner cities of Labour and Liberal Democrat councils will be another.

12.32 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The opening speeches of this debate reminded me of the rhyme: Two men looked out through prison bars, One saw mud, the other stars. It is not surprising that the Minister's speech of one hour and 20 minutes made me wonder whether he was filibustering. It focused on the undoubted highlights around the country, whereas the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) focused on the failures of Government policy in the inner cities.

It took the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to bring the debate down to earth and remind the House that, in some communities, deprivation has reached levels that would be regarded as appalling in under-developed countries. In those communities, it is impossible for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and exceptional measures are required if people's lives are not to be degraded, shortened and tarnished by the circumstances in which they find themselves living, through no fault of their own.

The citizens of Gorton are no more typical than those of the constituency of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). His constituency is not a deeply impoverished inner-city area, but a prospering, thriving community. It has rich industrial and commercial activities and local resources that are being put to good use. It is scarcely surprising that its education results are different from those in more deprived areas. It does not take the debate forward to suggest that what is happening in Croydon can be transplanted overnight to a constituency of a wholly different type such as Gorton.

By turning the debate into a futile exchange of political insults in the lead-up to the local authority elections—doubtless the reason why the debate was planned—we miss an opportunity to ask why there are still constituencies such as Gorton in our midst. After 15 years in office, why are the Conservative Government announcing this week a new scheme of special aid for those areas?

It follows a succession of other action programmes, city challenge being perhaps one of the most notable—it has substantial merit and successes to its credit. Why are special measures still necessary after 15 years of Conservative government that has concentrated on expenditure on programmes that focus predominantly—95 per cent.—on enterprise-related activity? The Minister would have helped the debate considerably if he had given us an idea of what the Government regard as their objectives. We did not hear about that during his long speech—

Mr. Vaz

It was a boring speech.

Mr. Maclennan

I did not find it at all boring. Although it was long, I was interested in it, because it alighted here and there—like a travel guide—on some of the more attractive parts of the country, where admirable activities are being generated. It was a Cook's tour, designed to cheer us all up. It was not a boring speech, but it did not include any measures by which we could judge the success of the Government's programme. It did not give us a yardstick against which we could judge the appropriateness of what the Government plan for the future.

I do not intend to speak for anything like as long as those hon. Members who have already spoken. Some might think that that is appropriate for someone who represents not an inner-city constituency but the most sparsely populated constituency in the British Isles, which has different problems. In justification of my speech, I should say that I was brought up in an inner city, in an affluent part of Glasgow, on the edge of an extremely impoverished area.

When Parliament is sitting, I live in an affluent part of the royal borough of Kensington, next to an impoverished area. I am not ignorant, therefore, of what is happening. Anyone who has spent 28 years in the House and who has travelled around the country can give the sort of Cook's tour that the Minister gave, and give a different impression of the country.

I shall speak anecdotally and not on the success of Government policies. That would require a far more lengthy analysis than it would be appropriate for me to attempt to give.

There are some disturbing trends in our country today, which I find deeply shocking. The trend away from good health in the community is baffling. My parents were both doctors; my father was a gynaecologist who specialised in the problems of women that flowed from malnutrition in the 1930s. I remember his saying before he died some years ago that at least that problem had been licked, and that people no longer needed to bother about his specialty.

Alas, that is far from being true, because there is a recurrence of rickets in our society, due directly to malnutrition. There is a recurrence of tuberculosis in our inner-city areas, which is clearly due to the poor community health provision there.

My mother was engaged in public health, and she spent her life endeavouring to eliminate these diseases. She thought that her life's work had been a success. My parents were both happy to think of the progress that had been made in their lifetime. How sad they would have been to discover that, after 15 years of Conservative government—one of them was a supporter of the Conservative party—these scourges are back in our society.

Most of the debate has been about urban planning, buildings, the injection of capital into business projects and partnership schemes, which may or may not have a training component. I believe that all that is important, although I had a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). He expressed some surprise that, after an hour, the Minister had not talked about social problems and had not reflected on the people who live in these communities, who suffer educational and social deprivation, and who face racial harassment and violence.

I was surprised by the Minister's attitude to the proposal by the Commission for Racial Equality, which has been supported by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth). He promoted a Bill on the subject, and he spoke with a good deal of authority on some of these matters earlier in the debate. The Minister is against the introduction of a specific offence of racial harassment. He seems to have confused the proposal for an offence of racial harassment with the separate proposal for an offence of racial violence.

The Minister's points about racial violence were fair, because it would be difficult to prove racial motivation. The proper approach is to treat the evidence of racial motivation as a ground for regarding the offence of violence as an aggravated offence, and for increasing the penalty available to the court.

However, for the Minister to dismiss the Racial Hatred and Violence Bill as he did today is seriously to underestimate the problem of racial harassment which faces some of the deprived inner-city areas, where the problems of a concentration of particular ethnic minorities are placing such burdens on the local authorities, the voluntary agencies and other community bodies that are concerned for them.

I hope that the Government will think again before the Bill leaves the House; I hope that they revise their view on racial harassment, because it is a scourge which we must eliminate and on which we must take a strong stand.

Before we hold another debate on the inner cities, it would be of immense value if the Government sought to construct performance measures for their programmes, which could be applied locally on the ground, so that we could judge the schemes. It is not reasonable simply to look over our shoulder and to say, "This House has voted through and supported so many millions or billions of pounds on city challenge and the other cognate schemes which have focused on discrete areas." No doubt those schemes have been of substantial benefit to those areas, but we must look also at other communities which have not been beneficiaries and which may not be in such great need.

The system of financial support for local authorities which the Government have introduced has been substantially misconceived. That is because it has not related assistance to need in the manner that, for all its faults, the old rate support grant did. The failure of local government finance has led to the necessity to create these schemes which are produced from time to time by new Secretaries of State with great acclamation and a huzza as the new way forward.

Let us hear a little more about local government finance. In particular, the Minister should look at the Liberal Democrat proposal for site value taxation, which has much merit. It would greatly assist the process of bringing into deprived areas the kind of business that is looking for relatively inexpensive accommodation, and it would generate greater business.

Even now, after 15 years, the Government have failed to get their local taxation right. That is one of the major contributory factors to the decline of our inner-city areas. It is quite apparent to the passing visitor, not just to the resident of Manchester, Gorton, that the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider, not narrower, and that the general standards of education are falling, not rising.

In the context of education, the Government should look again at section 11 funding problems. It is monstrous to criticise the local authority in Tower Hamlets, as the hon. Member for Croydon, South did, for its educational shortcomings. That borough has done remarkably well. If the hon. Gentleman knew about what was going on there and about the pressures on the education authority's budget, the difficulty of teaching multi-language classes and the appalling impact that the withdrawal of section 11 funding will have on that burden, perhaps he would not make such inappropriate political comments.

Mr. Baldry

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman intends to deal with the matter that I am about to mention. If he does, I apologise for asking about it. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for some time, but has not said much about Liberal policies. That is surprising, because, only a couple of weeks ago, the Liberal Democrats launched a policy on urban initiatives. Perhaps the policy passed by the hon. Gentleman, but if not, I should like him to explain some of it. Given some of the sensitivities and concerns in areas such as Tower Hamlets, about which he has spoken, perhaps he will explain what is meant by his party's policy document when it says that the Liberals advocate reform of the council house allocation system to encourage the development of communities. Before the hon. Gentleman finishes his speech, could he explain that?

Mr. Maclennan

I certainly played a part in the production of that document, which I have here. I said at the beginning of my contribution that I did not intend to make a comprehensive speech setting out the whole range of policies. I have already mentioned a number of them, but I have not presented them in the partisan way in which the Minister chose to explain the Government's position. I hope that the whole of my speech is an indication of the approach of Liberal Democrats to these matters, of our priorities and of the tests that we will apply to the policies of others.

Housing in Tower Hamlets is a serious problem, which is largely due to the failure of central Government to make provision. It is perhaps at its most acute in the Isle of Dogs which, under the arrangements set up by local Liberal Democrats—

Mr. John Marshall

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

I am answering the Minister's intervention, and I shall try to finish that before happily giving way to the hon. Gentleman. The failure of central Government to recognise the magnitude of the problems in Tower Hamlets, and especially in the Isle of Dogs, which is run by the Labour party, is why those troubles have come into being.

Mr. John Marshall

One would like to pass over the problems that the Liberal Democrats are having with selection in Tower Hamlets and to talk about education. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 39.4 per cent. of children in Tower Hamlets play truant at some time during the year, compared with 13.6 per cent. in Wandsworth? Does that not suggest a disquieting state of affairs, and what is he doing about it?

Mr. Maclennan

It is a disquieting state of affairs.

Mr. Vaz

The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) reading from a Central Office brief.

Mr. Marshall

That is not true.

Mr. Maclennan

May I give way to the hon. Member for Hendon, South, so that he may have a dialogue with another sedentary hon. Member? I suspect that that would be outwith the rules of order.

The hon. Member for Hendon, South is quite right. There is a major educational problem in that area, and I was attempting to confront it. It is in large part due to the educational needs of multi-language pupils, who have special requirements which cannot all met. Despite that, if the hon. Gentleman were to go into the community, he would be impressed by efforts that are being made to tackle the problems. If he considers it closely, he would support the case for extending and restoring section 11 funding in the schools, which was reduced to below acceptable levels in autumn 1992.

Anyone who underrates the difficulty of the problems is either indulging in partisan politics or purblind. Those areas have serious problems, which are having nasty political repercussions, and they will affect the hon. Gentleman's party as much as my party. It would be sensible to consider the problems through rather less partisan spectacles.

12.51 pm
Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I am grateful for catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if only to speak briefly. One thing that rather irritated Conservative Members, apart from the rude and patronising note of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who is not in his place, was that he kept referring to the fact that he lived in his constituency, which was in an urban or inner-city area of some deprivation.

Some of us, including myself, on the Conservative Benches live in cities such as Birmingham, which has serious urban problems much the same as those of Manchester. I also live in my constituency, as I am sure do many hon. Member on both sides of the House. It is not a point of issue, and I am sure that it will not be referred to again. I surprised that a right hon. Member of such experience chose that line.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), I have been a member of the Conservative Back-Bench urban inner cities committee for some years, and am an officer of that committee. One thing that has struck us from talking to the many people of all political persuasions who have tried to help us to understand different aspects of urban decay, regeneration and the possibilities ahead, is the remarkable synergy between certain themes that the Government have tried usefully to address and which has found echoes in other people's political views.

One of those aspects is the fact that the design of housing estates has played a large part in the problems of outer and inner-city urban decay. Poor design of housing estates has often exacerbated not only the living environment, but the security of the people who live there.

With that in mind, I hope that the Government will again consider carefully what can be done along the lines of estate action, housing action trusts and so forth on a more minor scale to improve the living environment of decaying council estates. There are many such estates in my constituency. Druid's Heath on the edge of Birmingham is notorious in that respect. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of Stale for the Environment and other Ministers have visited that estate. We have serious problems of decay, social choesiveness, security and lawlessness.

Design is absolutely vital. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will give further thought to the way in which we build housing estates in future. We need to build housing estates that do not become rat or cockroach-infested, or permanently damp. Housing estates must not be afflicted by environmental problems. Above all, they must not become dens for drug dealers, pimps and other social undesirables, who can prosper within such housing estates because they are so poorly lit or because their very design gives shelter to allow such people to lurk in dark shadows.

Lighting is essential. It can seriously transform particular areas of urban decay. Areas in my constituency have benefited enormously from the far-sighted attitude taken on a totally apolitical, non-partisan basis by Birmingham city council in respect of various projects that have been assisted by Government money. I urge hon. Members in all parts of the House to concentrate in this debate on the aspects that might assist the regeneration of our inner cities in a sensible and non-partisan fashion.

Hon. Members have referred in some detail to the problems of lawlessness and poor education. I firmly believe that keeping children interested in education as they grow up, so that they progress into further education —whether that be on an academic or vocational level—is crucial to keeping children, who might otherwise be so bored as to commit vandalism and progress to more serious crime, out of crime and within the community.

I urge my colleagues on the Government Front Bench to give further support to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and others who have been pressing for due respect to be given to further education along national vocational qualification lines and to raising the standards of blue-collar qualifications to university level, so that people feel that they achieve in that area and that that area is respected by their peers and by employers.

I want to refer briefly to racial harassment and racial harmony. In Birmingham, we are lucky that many of the problems of racial antagonism and harassment that afflicted it and other major cities have been treated sensitively and are being addressed within the community more positively than they were previously. I hope that all political parties will do what they can to ensure that racial problems are not inflamed, for political reasons, and that we work together to achieve cohesiveness.

We are talking not about cultural integration or about particular parts of the community, whether they be ethnic minorities or ethnic majorities, but about social cohesion within our cities. If inner cities are to be revitalised, it is vital that people live peacefully with each other and appreciate and respect each other.

I am sure that my colleagues on the Government Front Bench, and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, support that view. I address that comment particularly to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) because I know that a by-election is taking place in Leicester which has extremely unattractive racial overtones. I hope that he will do his best in Leicester, as we will try to do in Birmingham, to ensure that political partisanship does not inflame the problem. I urge my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench to do what they can in that respect.

12.59 pm
Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

Since coming to the House two years ago, I have attempted to make speeches on inner-city policies and life in inner cities. I had the disadvantage of trying to make those speeches when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were in the Chair and you usually drew my attention to the fact that they were on the wrong issue. It is a relief therefore to stand up and know that I shall make the speech that I want to make on the issue and be perfectly in order. I have my fingers crossed.

I appreciate the fact that the Government have found time for the debate. However, it is soured somewhat by the fact that it may have something to do with the elections taking place in May, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said. I hope that that cynicism is misplaced.

The debate was not helped by the 66 minutes of gloating by the Minister when he read a list of schemes and agencies in his long peroration on things that are happening in the inner cities. If the Minister got that brief from his civil servants—he read it well and with humour; he did the best that he could with it—I hope that he does not believe it. I know that he is intelligent; I am sure that he was not the author of his speech and that he does not believe it.

The Minister spoke for 66 minutes about the wonderful work that has taken place in inner cities over the past 15 years. Sadly, the bitter tone of the exchanges between my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and several Tory Members may have taken attention away from the facts and figures spelt out by my right hon. Friend. If that happened, it would be a pity. If the Minister believes his brief, and if he believes that, after 15 years, the Government's policies are having an effect and doing the job, that is sad for our constituents.

Inner cities are desperate places. If we had more time, and if the debate were held on another day, hon. Members from urban areas could show that the problem is not isolated. Unfortunately, the problems of deprivation, poverty and insubstantial resources—I do not challenge the substantial amounts that have gone in through inner-city programmes and inner-city agencies—are not isolated in small parts of cities such as Leeds; they are widespread. Sadly, the Minister does not understand that inner-city programmes are not working.

At the heart of any urban policy debate must be the knowledge that many constituents in our major cities suffer from constant poverty. When I talk about constant poverty, I do not mean people who exist on a constant overdraft. Most of my constituents do not have that luxury. When the gas bill or the electricity bill comes in, when the kids need new shoes, when it is time to find dinner money or when a domestic crisis happens, that is a major disaster for the family. People cannot get out of poverty by using an overdraft because they do not have a bank account; they would not be given a bank account. They have no escape from grinding poverty day in and day out. Every day, people are one step away from disaster.

I beg the Minister, the Government and the House to understand that that is not an exaggeration; it is a fact of life in all of our major cities. People struggle to bring up families in those circumstances. Such circumstances ensure—this is the key point—that children grow up facing the same experience; thus, the cycle of deprivation is sustained. That is what is so heartbreaking. I have represented families in my constituency, both as a local councillor and as a Member of Parliament, and I now represent the sons and daughters of those families. I see that cycle of deprivation not only continue but get worse.

If Minister thinks that his policies have been successful, he will accept—he made the point himself—that, at the heart of the policies, are the economic issues of unemployment and putting people into work so that they can get money to enable them to look after their houses and families.

My constituency does not have the 10 per cent. average unemployment level which is enjoyed nationally. It is 14.9 per cent., but that figure hides obscene variations. There are four wards in my constituency, one of which has mainly owner-occupied properties and a male unemployment rate of 8 per cent. That is an unhappy rate, but it is livable with and is better than the national average.

Among the other three wards, there is 26 per cent. male unemployment in Burmantofts, and in Seacroft—the ward which I represented for more than 20 years—it is 28 per cent. The saddest thing, in view of our discussions, is that Harehills—with 7,500 people of an ethnic minority background, mainly Bangladeshi and Pakistani—has a male unemployment level of 30 per cent., or three times the national average. That is after 15 years of the Government's policies.

The Minister firmly believes that the policies are working. Living day in, day out in that area for more than 20 years, I say that they are not working. I do not say that glee, but with sadness because I see friends and neighbours having a sad life. Theirs is not a life which either the Minister or I would welcome.

Why are we in this position? The fact that the Government set off under Baroness Thatcher in 1980 rubbishing local councils played a major part. Instead of accepting that national Government do not have the necessary local knowledge of the varied needs of local communities in each city, and that local councils are in a far better position to have that local knowledge and would make ideal partners, the Government disdained that approach. The suspicion arises that that was because the big city councils were mainly Labour controlled. If that is a fact, it is a sad one.

For whatever reason, the Government threw away an opportunity to unite with councils in a common attack on poverty. The Government also continued to be amazed that communities and councils were less than grateful for the funds that were injected through the inner-city programme. The Government failed to realise that the marginal amounts of money that were put in under the urban aid programme were dwarfed by the cuts in rate support grants and in borrowing allocations to the mainstream budgets of councils.

Those two points together—the lack of genuine partnership and the severe cuts in the mainstream budgets —sum up the reasons why the first phase of the urban programme failed. Throughout the 1980s, there was no significant beneficial effect in economic terms in many communities. The Government should have worked with local councils, local people, businesses, police, health authorities, colleges and training and enterprise councils, using their influence and resources.

. This is not a cry for more spending. It is a cry for the Government to use the inner city programme to help those organisations to prioritise their mainstream budgets to an agreed and strategic objective which is reviewed and refined each year. Instead, the Government used in it a patronising and marginal way. It did some good, and they started some fine initiatives and some fresh thinking. However, it meant that the majority of the budgets of all those organisations were spent without reference to the objectives of the urban programme. Only the Government have the power, influence and authority to act as a catalyst. Sadly, the vision, anger and hunger to carry out that task were missing.

The policy has moved on, but if lessons have been learnt, the results have not shown that. We have moved to the age of city challenge, in which 57 authorities compete for funds. All 57 use valuable staff and spend valuable money in working on vast schemes for which to obtain money. They raise expectations in communities. There are many losers and few winners.

The Minister did not respond to the sedentary observations that only 31 of the 57 partnership areas have schemes. He did not respond to the fact that, after the second year, no new authorities will be put into the programme. The grand city challenge took 11 areas one year, 20 areas the second year and came to the buffers when the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to save some money.

Mr. Baldry

indicated dissent.

Mr. Mudie

The Minister shakes his head. With the greatest respect, the annual report shows that 31 partnership authorities are eligible for city challenge funding. No new authorities will be included this year.

The age of the small scheme is past. Schemes such as a creche to allow single mothers to train, gain employment and keep it and a training scheme to permit unemployed youths to gain skills was dismissed as irrelevant.

City challenge ran for two years. At first, understandably, few authorities were chosen. The scheme has now stopped. The big bang approach to urban poverty bad an even more basic fault. My authority in Leeds participated. It worked on a great scheme in central south Leeds. It spent valuable scarce resources on preparing a bid, but it lost. It was commended by the Minister, but it received no money. It will have no money coming in from the urban programme for some considerable time.

Even if Leeds had succeeded, the scheme was in central south Leeds and was irrelevant to my constituency of Leeds, East. It was irrelevant to the 30 per cent. male unemployed in the Harehills area. It may as well have been in Hong Kong for all the use that it would have been to east Leeds. If the Minister cannot get money to Leeds in the first two or three years, and even if a scheme in south Leeds or central Leeds is given money, what happens to the people in west Leeds and east Leeds? Do they admire the scheme from afar and say how wonderful it is when no help is coming to their communities to help them with their problems?

I must apologise for racing at this speed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am aware that several hon. Members want to speak. We have moved into the second phase of urban development, the big bang phase. Sadly—the matter has been mentioned, but only in passing—the beginning of the second phase has meant the ending of the urban programme and section 11 funding. What is sad about that is that when the matter was raised in the House and when I raised it personally at Question Time, in the first instance the Government denied that the funding had been reduced.

Figures from the Department's report were mentioned which were said to show that the Government were spending on the urban programme and section 11 more money in 1993–94 and 1994–95 than in previous years. But those figures and statistics missed out the fact that no new schemes were to be made eligible for inner city money in the programme. The same goes for section 11 money.

The facts and figures of inner-city life mean that if one is black one has much less chance—

Mr. Baldry

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mudie

Let me finish the sentence. In two minutes, the Minister can get to his feet. Now he has broken me off. People who are black and unemployed know that whatever jobs are handed out, they will definitely be at the back of the queue. The Government stopped the funds to help train Asian people who have English as a second language and allow them to compete for jobs. I do not know how the Minister can defend that. I do not know how the Minister can see that as an improvement on the inner-city programme.

Mr. Baldry

I want to clarify one point. Section 11 funding has not finished; it is one of the 20 programmes that will go into the single regeneration budget. As for urban programmes, we have never made any secret of the fact that they are continuing—for example, the partnership programme is continuing. But we believe that a better way of delivering urban policies is through the single regeneration budget, as I set out in my speech.

Mr. Mudie

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) said, there is a fear that, as the individual budgets go into the single regeneration agency, decisions will be taken, programmes will be stopped and money will be shuffled. The Minister cannot deny—it is a sad fact and something that the Government should rethink, particularly in view of what is happening in our inner cities—that fresh bids for section 11 should be invited forthwith. It is very sad that bids have stopped.

That is the experience of policies over 15 years. Whatever policies have tried to do, they have demonstrably failed in their main objectives and that is why I condemn the Government's complacency in this area. In case the Minister contests this point and feels that he can continue to bumble along, I will give him the facts.

New forces are at work in our major cities which, if not matched and defeated in the near future, will end for ever —I use the words advisedly—any chance that any Government have of transforming life for residents of the inner city.I speak of the growth of the illegal drugs trade. While policy has drifted and opportunities have carelessly been lost, those who organise the illegal drugs industry have acted with a speed and ruthlessness that I wish the Minister had maintained and matched.

These people are in our cities in a big way and their presence is being felt by almost everyone in our community. Crime figures boom, as adults and youngsters burgle, steal cars and mug the elderly in order to raise cash to buy drugs. A survey in West Yorkshire interviewed convicted youngsters and found that more than 70 per cent. of the crimes were drug related.

It is clear that the industry offers vast rewards. Even if urban policies had worked and if we were now prepared to educate, skill and employ our youngsters, the fact is that normal employment is beginning to look quaint to a large number of youngsters. They can, and do, earn so much more money in the drugs trade that, even if jobs and training were offered, the rewards there are so great that interest in normal employment is waning.

Hon. Members may say that they will inevitably be caught; but most experts disagree. I have spoken to the regional drugs squad and the local drugs squad in my area. The local divisional police superintendent has a drugs team and they say that, working hard as they are, the growth in the drugs trade in our inner cities is overwhelming them. These dedicated people can see the facts: not enough resources, care or attention are being devoted to combating this evil industry, which will continue to cause great problems in our cities.

Because of the rewards of the drugs trade and because of the amount of money involved and the need to guard territory, the guns industry is growing in our inner cities. This growth is completely and directly linked to the drugs trade, as evil people have seized the opportunity presented to them. I beg the Minister to understand that those loopholes and opportunities must be removed. If they are not, we shall go the American way and our inner cities will be places where one dares not go.

I fear that we have sustained deprivation and a Government who steadfastly refuse to take the problems seriously. A deteriorating situation is becoming potentially explosive because of the arrival and effects of illegal drugs. At the least, the Government should show humility. They should dispassionately order a policy review, examine funding and the lack of results, consult local authorities and associations and bring in every possible agency and Department to work out practical ways to alleviate poverty. Above all, they should skill adults, who are stranded without qualifications, and ensure that inner-city schools have the necessary additional resources to educate youngsters so that the cycle of being unqualified and unskilled is broken.

The main requirement is to bring the various agencies together and, as a priority, focus their resources on the scandal of neglect. That would bring some hope and offer a future to the forgotten people in our inner cities.

1.20 pm
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I am grateful for being able to speak in this debate and glad that I have been able to listen to it. Times have not changed. When I was a Minister at the Department of the Environment, I had to deal with many such problems.

My hon. Friend the Minister cited a long list of what is being done, primarily through the Department of the Environment, and we heard many complaints from Opposition Members about shortfalls and inaccurate targeting of funding.

I do not want to concentrate on matters that involve the Department, because one aspect of inner-city problems worries me above all others. No matter how much money the Government have poured into innovative schemes and enterprises, while people in the inner cities perceive that they are at great risk from crime, burglary, mugging and —even more important—women fear violent assault and rape, I have to wonder whether we have achieved anything.

Perhaps crimes are more a perception than a reality. One of the polling organisations published research this week suggesting that, above all else, people fear being mugged and burgled. I read in my morning newspaper today about some research by Labour-controlled authorities in London, which shows that insurance companies are drawing a red line around London because it is an area of much greater risk for them. Are people in London taking the right precautions to protect themselves against burglaries and car crimes?

Interestingly, Mr. Michael Grade, of the television industry, apparently told us that people's perception of crime is enhanced and enlivened excessively as a result of television programmes, such as "Crimewatch" and the series showing re-enacted crimes that the film producer Michael Winner has been bringing to our television screens. I do not know whether crime is more a perception than a reality, but I know that we must look for solutions to the problems of inner cities.

Above all, our police forces must receive full support for their efforts—in London, that means the Metropolitan police—and that support must come from individuals, communities and local councils. We were all pleased to hear of the success of Operation Bumblebee—a Metropolitan police campaign against burglary. Since 1991, when it started, 5,000 arrests have been made and more than 10,000 burglaries have been solved in north London alone. Fifteen thousand fewer houses were burgled in the Metropolitan police area in 1993 than in the previous year. That shows some success, and perhaps some of the perceptions of the British people have not been entirely accurate. Nevertheless, people continue to be frightened.

We have had the initiatives in community co-operation of neighbourhood watch and of the police and community group set up in each borough to tell the police what people desire. We have had home beat policing, to try to bring policemen closer to the home communities, and the Metropolitan police are now conducting an operation called sector policing. Obviously, efforts are being made to combat exaggerated perceptions of the likelihood of crime and to combat crime when it happens.

In combating crime and in making people aware of their community duties, we must start with young people. In the inner-city boroughs of London and, indeed, in the outer London boroughs, junior citizenship schemes have been set up whereby the police work with the councils and schools to ensure that young people understand from the beginning what their duties are. I am very pleased about that. One London borough has introduced its sports development officers on to all the estates. All the areas that suffer the deprivation described by some hon. Members might be able to introduce young people to pursuits that will keep them off the streets and keep them out of crime. All that is helpful.

I know of the work of some of the councils in inner London and I am especially impressed by one. It will not surprise hon. Members that it is Wandsworth borough council, which has tackled— [Interruption]—The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) may scoff, but the tackling of those problems often depends on what councils and councillors are prepared to do with their resources, together with the police, teachers and so on in the area.

I have here a file of the various schemes and measures that have been instituted by Wandsworth borough council throughout the borough to combat crime. One or two hon. Members mentioned closed circuit television. It is unfortunate that doubts were expressed in Birmingham city council about closed circuit television and the fact that there might be undue surveillance of people's private actions. Nevertheless, in Wandsworth, with sponsorship from local business, closed circuit television has been introduced in several of the main high streets where the council is well aware, as a result of police research, that there are real problems and threats to the populace. It has introduced mobile closed circuit television operations to cut motor car crime and break-ins to motor cars.

I have also been most impressed by the way in which progressively, as a result of forming a crime prevention policy review panel, Wandsworth borough council has considered designing out crime in alleyways and in the remote areas away from the streets and away from the main movement of the public. It has thereby cut many of the easy escape routes that criminals would have had. It has also introduced better lighting in car parks and in side streets.

Those measures have proved to the criminal fraternity that there is no point in trying to continue their criminal activities and they have proved to the local people that they are safer than they may have believed.

The proof is contained in the statistics that the officers of that inner-city council have given me. The crime rate per person in Wandsworth is almost 30 per cent. lower than the inner London average and continues to be the lowest in inner London. Comparing Wandsworth—as we so often do in the House and outside—with its neighbour, the borough of Lambeth, we find that Wandsworth has 31 per cent. less crime per person. Compared with 10 other inner London boroughs, Wandsworth had the lowest rate of burglary and violence against the person. Lambeth had 182 per cent. more crimes against the person, 112 per cent. more robberies and 40 per cent. more burglaries.

It is clear that councillors, together with the community, must tackle the threat of crime and the criminal fraternity if those idle hands are not to get away with their activities. Before we consider putting more money into programmes, we have a duty to ensure that we protect our people, as the London borough of Wandsworth has succeeded in doing.

1.31 pm
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

I am proud to represent the London borough of Hackney in the House of Commons. It is possible to be too negative about our inner cities. Since the 19th century, my borough has contributed a stream of distinguished people to this country's public and business life—people such as Herbert Morrison, architect of the London county council and a great post-war Labour statesman, and Sam Cohen, father of Lady Porter, the distinguished Tory statesperson.

It is appropriate to point out the many remarkable aspects of inner city life. I live in a borough where, by and large, people from Africa, Ireland and Asia live happily side by side with people from one of the largest Hasidic Jewish communities in Europe. Although we have seen an unfortunate rise in racist violence and fascist activity, we should pay tribute to the fact that in most inner cities it is remarkable how people of different religion, faith and colour live happily as neighbours.

There is also an enormous amount of energy and activity in our inner cities. Politicians often ignore the amount of effort, energy and voluntary labour that people put into their community groups, churches, mosques and temples. I should like to strike a different note than has been struck hitherto and say that, despite everything, people in inner cities are not just surviving but managing to achieve. However, they are doing so despite the Government and their programmes, not because of them.

To listen to Tory Members discuss inner cities is to hear them at their worst. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) pointed out, Tory Members neither live in nor represent those areas. Their knowledge of inner cities is largely gleaned from central office handouts and their glimpses of poverty are from the back windows of their town houses. To hear Tory Members discuss inner cities is to hear them give way to the worse kind of ignorance and prejudice.

We have heard a lot about schemes and much political point scoring, but the central reality for those of us who live and work in the inner city is the massive level of unemployment. In Hackney, North and Stoke Newington we have the sixth highest level of unemployment in the country. Unemployment is not about figures or manipulating statistics. The very high levels of unemployment in inner cities mean absolute poverty, from which many of our other problems flow.

Unemployment, particularly for men, means a tragic loss of identity. My father was a welder. He was a skilled man who served an apprenticeship and, in turn, had his own apprentices. For ordinary working men in inner cities, their trade, craft and job was part of their identity. In committing our young people to joblessness and throwing older men out of work—men in their 40s who become unemployed in districts like Hackney will never work again—the Government are not merely condemning them and their families to poverty, but stripping away the identity of the men. That point is not often made, but it is at the heart of many of the disorder problems in our inner cities.

We cannot touch on the problems of inner cities without mentioning housing. Housing issues form a major part of the work load of every inner-city Member of Parliament. Of the thousands of cases that I deal with every year, 60 per cent. are housing cases. The Government's record on housing is abysmal, particularly in the inner cities. The number of new houses built under the Tory Government —whether in the private or public sector or by the housing corporations—has dropped year by year.

Conservative Members are quick to jump up and talk about housing associations, but those associations cannot provide for the housing needs of the inner cities. They can help and make an important contribution, but the high private sector rents mean that there has to be a thriving public housing sector in inner cities to meet the needs of constituents. Housing associations may work in the shire counties and in the suburbs, but they neither claim to meet, nor are capable of meeting, the housing needs of inner cities. The Government have failed to give people in inner cities decent homes. That is one of the most tragic aspects of the Government's record. When the Government give money to housing associations, they force them to pursue high-rent policies, so when housing associations build developments in inner cities the rents are so high that the only way for ordinary people to be able to live in them is to claim housing benefit.

Another big issue in inner cities is that of single-parent mothers. The Government's attack on single-parent mothers in our great cities of London, Manchester and Birmingham has been distressing and degrading. Despite the Government's propaganda, smears and attacks, most single-parent mothers in our great cities did not choose to become so—they are widows and divorcees. Given the chance, most of them would work and look after their children. Attacking women who are doing their best to bring up their families does not help the inner cities.

Conservative Members talked about education and training. One of the biggest blows to education standards in London was the abolition of the Inner London education authority, which meant the loss of the finance available for education in London. It also meant that poor districts, such as mine in Hackney, lost the redistributive effect of the Inner London education authority. Services such as the youth service, special needs education and nurseries have also suffered. Inner-city residents in London have suffered from the loss of a voice in the shape of the Greater London council.

I wish to concentrate now on the role of black and Asian business people in cities. Black and Asian business people, often without Government grants, have done more to preserve the fabric of life in inner cities and to regenerate the inner cities than any of the Government's bogus public relations schemes. They do not get grants and support. Above all, they do not get recognition.

For the past few months, I have organised a network of black business women in London. The businesses include hair care, financial services, shipping, retail and many other areas. These women, young and middle-aged, have their own businesses and they are trying to help themselves. They tell me that what they want above all from the Government is not pity or tokenism, but recognition and practical support, especially in terms of finance and the lending policies of our great banks.

Ministers have talked about the Isle of Dogs as a triumph of Government policy. They have talked about Canary wharf as the symbol of all that the Government are doing for the inner cities. Yes, the Isle of Dogs is a symbol of all that the Government are doing for the inner cities. What do we have on the Isle of Dogs? There are glittering office developments, but the local population suffers absolute levels of poverty, unemployment and deprivation, to the extent that they have voted for the British National party. In that sense, in the public poverty amid private splendour and the rise of the National Front, one can indeed see the emblem of Government policies for the inner cities.

It is easy to get into political point scoring when we debate the inner cities. Conservative Members never resist the temptation to talk about the inhabitants of the inner cities as though we were all objects of social concern—drug dealers, single mothers scrounging off social security or some sort of subculture. My message to the House this morning is that the people who live in the inner cities are men and women just as Conservative Members are. What they want is respect, recognition, jobs for the men and for young people leaving school in their communities and, above all, an end to bogus schemes which focus on the public relations effect. They want the beginning of Government policies that will genuinely and materially raise the living standards of people such as those whom I am privileged to live among and represent in Hackney, North and Stoke Newington.

1.41 pm
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I welcome the speech by my hon. Friend the Minister. It will give great heart to my constituents in Chesham and Amersham, especially as it appears that the Government now recognise one of the problems that face my citizens and shopkeepers in Chesham—the erosion of the high streets of our towns and cities by the development of out-of-town shopping centres. In this context, I welcome planning policy guidance note 13 from the Department of the Environment which at last appears to recognise the problem. I look forward to seeing how the Government will move forward to tackle our dying high streets, both in the inner cities and in towns such as Chesham.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) sought to find an explanation of strategy in my hon. Friend the Minister's speech. I felt that the strategy was clearly pointed out by my hon. Friend. I looked for the alternative strategy in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I could not find it. I hope that when he sums up we shall hear some of Labour's positive proposals.

The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) started well and I was delighted to hear that she intended to make a positive speech on the inner cities. Indeed, I agreed with many of her points. However, she could not resist the temptation of casting aspersions on Conservative Members. I may represent a beautiful constituency, but I have spent the past 20 years living and working in London, our largest city, and it has been a great privilege. I do not walk round the streets of London with my eyes closed to the problems or to the improvements.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) cast aspersions on my running back to my leafy constituency. In fact, I nipped out of the Chamber only for a couple of minutes, whereas the right hon. Gentleman seems to have deserted us completely. I nipped out of the Chamber to check up on a few statistics. I am privileged to have had the honour to fight the Euro-constituency of Greater Manchester Central, and I keep an eye on what happens in Manchester. I was right because since January 1993 in all the Greater Manchester constituencies there has been a positive downward trend in unemployment. As the right hon. Gentleman painted his sad picture of some of his constituents, I thought that he would have had the grace to acknowledge that.

I should like to mention two topics, the first of which is directly connected with my constituency. It is a beautiful area not far from London—close enough to run the danger of mainly inner-city problems being exported to my towns and villages. I refer particularly to the export of crime and the development of the awayday criminal. One cannot look at the inner cities and their problems or successes in isolation: one must also consider the impact on our rural communities. Sadly, crime has always been a feature of urban areas, but, as our successes against the criminal fraternity are notched up, the probability of the perpetrators seeking new pastures rises.

In Chesham over the past few years we have, sadly, seen the advent of the vicious crime of ram raiding and a number of shops have been affected more than once. Closed-circuit television has reduced crime in some inner-city areas and we want that facility in Chesham as soon as possible, not only to deter potential thieves and villains but to catch them and show them that those who dare will lose in Chesham. It is quite something to listen to Opposition Members talking about crime and accusing Conservative Members of being soft on it. On the issue of closed-circuit television, I discovered that in Birmingham Labour tried to block the extension of the city watch programme. Last year a Labour councillor was extremely worried about the intrusion of sophisticated surveillance equipment into public life. My law-abiding citizens are not worried about the intrusion of such equipment: they want it because they want to stop the criminal.

Mr. Henderson

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gillan

No, because in the short time available I should like to complete my speech.

The displacement of crime from urban areas to the countryside is being dealt with, and I hope that this will continue, by our very able police forces who are developing ways to combat the travelling criminal. Good examples of an effective response can be found in schemes such as country watch and farm watch which are based on a two-way flow of information between the rural communities and the police forces.

There are now more than 370 farm watch schemes in England and Wales helping to combat a whole range of crimes from the theft of equipment and vehicles to sheep rustling and poaching. Robbery and burglary, the classic urban crimes, have undoubtedly increased in the past decade. Our village post offices and shops and more isolated properties present a soft target to the criminal. Regional crime squads are increasingly targeting criminals who travel across boundaries and the Government must give them great support.

One of the great success stories, which has been touched on only briefly by one of my colleagues, is the Pnince's Youth Business Trust which aims to help people between the ages of 18 and 29. It focuses particularly on the long-term unemployed from the inner cities and ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and young offenders. I hope that no hon. Member will disagree with the view that the Prince's Youth Business Trust provides a superb opportunity for inner-city youngsters.

I should like to mention one such young person. I had the privilege to visit a recent exhibition at which I met the 20,000th entrepreneur, a young woman from Sheffield called Joy Taylor, who is setting up the Westbourne shiatsu practice. Twenty thousand young people have been helped by the Prince's Youth Business Trust and I know that not only the Prince of Wales but the Government will help many more. I hope that the Government will continue to support that scheme to help our young people in the inner cities.

1.49 pm
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

We seem to have come full circle in the debate with the speech of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). The Minister opened the debate with a somewhat bland and, I thought, self-serving speech and the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham certainly moved away from the central purpose of our debate of defining the main problem of most inner-city urban areas—overwhelm-ing, grinding and continuous poverty.

In response to the comments of the hon. Lady, may I point out that, in Newcastle, the installation of closed-circuit television was strongly supported by the Labour authority. When I visited the Home Secretary with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) to urge him to authorise closed-circuit television in one of the shopping centres in my hon. Friend's constituency that had been the victim of IRA bombing, his response was negative in the extreme.

I do not want to get stuck in the party-political elements that I believe have disfigured certain parts of our debate. The central issue was, touched on most tellingly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott).

It is sometimes thought that my constituency, as I have had occasion to say before in the House, is entirely populated by millionaires and is therefore excluded from the difficulties from which inner London areas suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth. My constituency suffers from most of the classic inner-city problems. For example, the latest unemployment figures show that 13.7 per cent. of my constituents are without a job, which is almost 40 per cent. higher than the national average of 9.9 per cent. That figure has more than doubled in some of the wards in my constituency. In one ward, male unemployment is 31 per cent. The average unemployment rate of Northern Ireland is 13.5 per cent., so that the rate in my constituency is considerably higher.

Housing is also a major problem. In Camden, 1,518 families are without a home—4,300 people, of whom almost 2,000 are children.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland mentioned the diseases that poverty is reintroducing into our societies—he cited rickets and tuberculosis—which is undoubtedly the case. The incidence of rickets is being suffered most severely, certainly in London, among those families who are trapped in appalling bed-and-breakfast housing conditions. That too seems to be an area in which the Government are throwing money down the drain. It costs £14,000 a year to keep families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in this city. How many flats or maisonettes could be built for that money?

Crime has also increased in my constituency. There were 22,070 crimes recorded in the past year, which is one crime every 20 minutes and a rise of 8 per cent. on the figure for the past year. Nevertheless, my constituents are to lose 22 police officers in the rescheduling of policing for London. The figures that I have given can be matched 1,000 times over for the whole of London.

I should like to refer briefly to two figures from the 1994 advice on strategic planning for London compiled by the London planning advisory committee, which is an all-party organisation, so that there can be no accusations from Conservative Members that I am indulging in party politics. Its document states: London has suffered 52 per cent. of net national decline in employment since 1988. Between 1981–1989, employment in services grew by 8 per cent., though this has been eroded steadily in the last four years. Manufacturing employment, meanwhile, fell by almost 50 per cent. between 1981 and 1991. Services now make up 85 per cent. of total employment while manufacturing only makes up 11 per cent. We cannot survive in this city solely on the basis of employment provided by service industries. In the main, service industries offer part-time jobs which are invariably low paid. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the need to reintroduce manufacturing industries into this capital city.

The LPAC document also states: Government, … should acknowledge that, on the basis of provisional estimates, there are 560,000 households in housing need in London, of which 380,000 are unlikely to be able to meet their needs through the private market. Guidance should therefore include policies to secure a substantial increase in the availability of affordable housing between 1992 and 2006". I cannot believe that that housing need will be met if the Government only put forward schemes which, by their very nature, are competitive. There will admittedly be winners, but there will also be an increasing number of losers.

It is essential that we should try to restore in the people who live in our inner cities a sense that we value them as individuals. They must be aware that they are not dismissable and that they will not be discounted. They must know that their lives and communities have a value and that that value will not be defined according to whether their area wins one of the competitions about which the Government continually talk.

Every fortnight, I buy my copy of The Big Issue from Elizabeth. She is an accredited seller of The Big Issue.Her stand is in the wind tunnel between the underground station and the gates that lead us to this House. She is in her late 70s. I said to her, "Elizabeth, why are you here?" She said, "What better place should I stand and attempt to sell this magazine than cheek by jowl with the place where the decisions are taken which affect housing, homelessness and housing need?"

I strongly urge the Minister to speak to Elizabeth and to acknowledge that the Government have done good things, but they are merely the tip of the iceberg. The Minister presented a programme that reminded me of the spotted dick puddings that we used to get in school: there was a great weight of mainly grey suet pudding with the odd raisin dotted here and there, covered by a glutinous, too-sweet syrup.

There is real poverty and real need in our inner cities. There may be social explosions if we do not acknowledge that now. It is no good Conservative Members criticising local authorities on housing, education and how they deal with crime when Conservative Members religiously walk through the Lobby to support the Government who have cut housing and education budgets and who will be reducing section 11 funding.

1.57 pm
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

It is one of the joys of a Friday that one comes to this place with a long speech and is then told that one can speak until approximately 2 pm. I will therefore be very brief and will comment on only two of the many speeches that we have heard today.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) complained about the impact of the uniform business rate on local business. The UBR was introduced so that local authorities could no longer make industrial deserts of themselves. Before the UBR was introduced in London, an industrialist thinking of setting up in Haringey or in Enfield knew that if he was foolish enough to go to Haringey the burden of local authority rates there would be much higher than it was in Enfield. Similarly, someone thinking of setting up a commercial operation in Lambeth or Wandsworth knew that he would pay very much more in rates in Lambeth than in Wandsworth. The uniform business rate was designed to destroy the evil impact on local industry of high-cost socialist local authorities.

The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) lamented the abolition of the Inner London education authority. She failed to realise that ILEA destroyed the chances of a generation of children in London. It sent them into the world unqualified for jobs which their native skills should have enabled them to be qualified for. The quality of education delivered by the ILEA was an absolute scandal. Abolition of the ILEA is at last giving hope to the children of inner London that they may leave school with a chance to get a good job and have a prosperous and full future.

In debates such as this, it is traditional to complain about the level of public expenditure in the inner cities. What is important is not the level of spending by local authorities but the way in which they spend money. For example, refuse collection in Hackney costs £33.90 per resident, whereas it costs £13.40 in the London borough of Barnet. That is an example of inefficiency. Rent arrears in Barnet are 4.3 per cent. of the rent roll; in Hackney, they are 20.1 per cent., and they are 29.7 per cent. in Lambeth. It is no wonder that the local authority debt in Lambeth is £878 million, compared with £132 million in Barnet. That is inefficiency, incompetence, a refusal to collect debt and a refusal to disgorge assets that local authorities have had for far too long.

I could speak at length about the incompetence of Hackney council, but suffice it to say that 0.9 per cent. of the local authority housing stock in Barnet is vacant, whereas in Hackney it is 9.2 per cent., 10 times as much.

Incompetent, socialist local authorities have destroyed inner cities in London. They created the problems. They denied the residents of those cities the chance of decent education and decent housing, and they destroyed opportunities for the residents. They deserve to be kicked out bag and baggage in May from the positions that they have abused for far too long.

2.1 pm

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

This debate has been a tale of two cities: the reality of what has been happening in our cities over the past 15 years, as told to the House so eloquently in the excellent speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson); and the other cities that Tory Members such as the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) seem to believe exist.

What I saw was a city in which the smoke was everywhere. It smelled of burning wire and plastic. The smoke was so thick that it obscured the lights of a helicopter circling directly overhead. Sirens screamed every few seconds as strike teams of fire engines escorted by California Highway patrol cars—literally convoys of twenty vehicles, the patrol cars to protect the fire-fighters—raced from one fire to the next". That graphic description of Los Angeles in the spring of 1992 was seen by the current United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros. That is not the sort of tale that we wish to be able to recount at first hand about inner-city Britain. The truth is that our inner cities may not be so far away from that appalling scenario. Our cities have been ravaged because of a lack of guidance, support and leadership from the Conservative Government.

This is Britain in 1994: the British National party—a fascist party—has a council seat in Millwall drugs and crime are out of control; our prisons are overflowing; policemen are shot in broad daylight in cold blood; people are kicked to death on our streets; and people are forced to live on the streets. That is the unfortunate reality of life in Britain, and the ultimate blame rests with the Government.

Since the Conservatives took office in 1979, our cities have had to contend with different inner-city policies being launched at a rate of more than one a year—my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) has already listed them—but still the decay goes on.

This is the first debate on inner cities since the Government decided to abolish the urban programme. We come to lament the urban programme; they come to bury it. There was not one word in the Minister's speech about the successes and achievements of that programme—one policy which, for a generation, provided much-needed funds and support for our inner cities.

The roots of that policy go back a long way, from a speech made by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson in May 1968, to the changes announced in April 1977 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), with advice from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), through to when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) confirmed the Government's commitment to improve the inner cities in 1979.

The right hon. Gentleman was then prepared to lavish praise on the urban programme which was devised by a Labour Government and was readily acceptable to, and accepted by, Conservative Governments. That was the case until 1 December 1993, when the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction said: As the hon. Member knows, the urban programme is being phased out".—[Official Report, 1 December 1993; Vol. 233, c. 1032.] That shock announcement contradicted his superior, the Secretary of State, who proclaimed on 24 January 1993 that the urban programme had not been abolished.

Ministers for inner cities move on just in time to avoid answering questions on policies that have suddenly disappeared. The bodies of old inner-city policies must be holding up the triple towers of the Department of the Environment in Marsham street. Out with the urban programme went 30,000 jobs, 70,000 training places and 9,000 schemes, which provided £250 million a year to our most deprived areas. Those were all destroyed when the Government abolished that long-held policy.

There was no more secure funding for inner-city areas and there was no consultation with the voluntary sector. There was not even a glance back at the lost partnership. That was the latest slur on our inner-city areas. Our cities now face a crisis in confidence, resources and management by the Government. All we get are half-baked schemes and broken promises. There is a deep wound at the heart of our urban society—as has been mentioned so passionately by my hon. Friends—and the bloody fingerprints that caused that deep wound are those of the Government. It is well that the Minister should examine his fingerprints as I say that.

The breakdown in society that can occur has been foretold in Millwall, as was mentioned in the debate. There, the politics of despair and frustration have taken a hold. It is only a small step from Canary wharf to the Isle of Dogs. How can a party that propagates hatred and bigotry have a councillor elected in an inner-city ward in Britain in 1994?

The reason is shamefully obvious. People in that area have been forgotten for far too long by central Government and they are not receiving the help that they so desperately need. There is an absence of hope, and I saw that for myself on Monday when I visited residents and tenants in Tower Hamlets with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn.

The vulnerable have suddenly become scapegoats. The division of ethnic groups on racial grounds in inner-city areas must be stopped at all costs. That is why the Labour party has campaigned strongly against the cutting of section 11 grants. Cutting section 11 will solve none of the budget problems which are so pressing and will only lead to increased friction. That will place an even greater strain on inner-city schools.

There is also a responsibility on the Liberal Democrat party in Tower Hamlets. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) did not take the opportunity to condemn the way in which the Liberal Democrat party operated in Tower Hamlets. It is all very well for the leader of the Liberal Democratic party to lecture us on ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, but then we hear of the ethnic cleansing of council candidates who have been duly selected by the Liberal Democrat party.

I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, who is a decent man, will take this opportunity to condemn what his party has done in attempting to remove candidates on the ground of their race.

Mr. Maclennan

I regret the line taken by the hon. Gentleman, and I would accept his strictures with greater humility if he himself had shown a readiness in Leicester to condemn clear racist actions which have been taken in his own neighbourhood. The hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge the exhaustive analysis of the complaints that were made against certain councillors, or the self-criticism contained in the report by Lord Lester of Herne Hill. Those have been adopted by my party and amount to a brave admission of wrongdoing. It is a serious attempt—unlike that of the Labour party—to eliminate racism in politics in Tower Hamlets.

Mr. Vaz

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to condemn members of his party. My views on recent events in Leicester are clearly set out in early-day motion 693, which I hope that he will sign. Other members of his party, such as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), have signed that motion.

The term "cosmopolitan" used to imply all that was good about society in our inner-city areas: a wealth of different cultures and experiences coming together and joining to form a society that was more cultured and broad-minded than most. With our cultural diversity, we should be the most envied society in the world. Under the Conservative Government, our inner-city centres have become the most pitied.

Crime and the fear of crime are the most serious blights on our inner cities. That is no wonder when we consider that car crime increased by 156 per cent. between 1979 and 1992. Burglaries have increased 163 per cent. in the same period. Drug abuse has increased fivefold since 1982. Drug-related crime has also increased by a staggering 153 per cent. since 1982. What a pity that the Minister did not take the opportunity of the debate to support the excellent work that is being done by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) in promoting the Bill of which I am a sponsor.

People are being increasingly marginalised and left to adopt increasingly extreme measures to protect themselves and their families. The time when private security guards protect those who can afford it, leaving the less wealthy stranded in lawless ghettos may no longer be the stuff of science fiction if the Conservative party continues with its present policies.

The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) rightly raised the alarming conclusions of an Association of London Authorities report published today entitled "At a premium". It highlighted the fact that insurance companies are restricting the amount of insurance that they give to inner-city businesses and homes and that there are certain places in our inner cities that they are not prepared to insure. That is an indictment of the way in which the Government's policy has operated in the past 15 years.

Mr. Kaufman

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of my constituents, whose business has been the subject of malicious damage on racial grounds, has been told by his insurers that malicious damage will be removed from his policy forthwith?

Mr. Vaz

I am not in the least surprised by what my right hon. Friend says. It points to the fact that the policies that have been implemented simply have not worked.

We need to restore civic pride and leadership to our inner cities, not the city pride initiative that the Secretary of State launched so recently. That is just another cheap gimmick launched by the Government in a vain attempt to show that they are doing something for our inner cities and the people who live there. The Government have spent 15 years robbing our major cities of their money, dignity and pride. Now they want to give it back.

City pride involves only three cities: London, which does not have an elected strategic government, Labour Manchester and Labour Birmingham, which was recently pilloried by Ministers for investing in its future and the future of its people. The burning question for the cities involved, and certainly for Opposition Members, is what extra resources the Government intend to provide for the cities that participate in the scheme. I can tell the Minister the answer. We have been told in replies to parliamentary questions. The answer is none. Not an extra penny of resources will be made available for city pride. One wonders why the Secretary of State launched the initiative in the first place.

It is surprising that the Secretary of State could name only three cities in Britain which he said had an international reputation. What nonsense. What an insult to all the metropolitan areas such as Leeds, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, the international reputation of which is beyond question. The reality of Conservative policy for our cities is limited scope, limited investment and limited vision.

Then there is city challenge, heralded as the great hope for our urban areas and abandoned after only two rounds. City challenge turned the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) into the Hughie Green of regeneration policy. It was an "Opportunity Knocks" policy, with very few winners and many losers.

Labour Members support the idea of funds being made available for inner-city areas, but we cannot accept the fact that there were so few winners in the game show and that the funds made available were so few and under such tight restrictions.

Nigel Smith of Drivers Jonas, a chartered surveyors firm with a great deal of experience in this area, has said of city challenge: It is annuality gone mad". The effect of the extreme regulations surrounding city challenge winners is that the best scheme does not always receive the funding it requires. The Government seem to have adopted the attitude that if a policy can be launched in a blaze of glory, then do it, regardless of its real effects and without consideration for those struggling to improve our inner-city environments.

The Labour party also rejects the notion that towns and cities should have to compete with each other for limited and valuable funds. How can it be right that Liverpool should compete with Bristol, Salford and Plymouth and that Leicester should compete with Luton, Leeds and Manchester?

At last, we have the single regeneration budget. That is finally an acceptance by the Conservative party of what the Labour party has said for years: the time for a co-ordination of Government policies on inner cities has surely come. Labour has been campaigning for many years for an integrated regeneration policy. However, as with all other good ideas from this side of the House that the Conservative party pilfers, its implementation causes us great concern.

The reality is that Derby, Nottingham and Leicester, for example, which, under the urban programme alone, received £12 million will now have to compete with the rest of the east midlands area for a slice of the £100 million budget. That equates to £10 million for the entire east midlands pot. A large proportion of the agencies active in regeneration are small and have no experience of competing for funds, especially where the allocation decision rests ultimately with Ministers. The number of bidders has vastly increased and the pivotal role for local authorities has been callously disregarded.

People are leaving our cities at the rate of 4 million every five years. According to a recent survey, a further 30 million people would like to leave them. Community groups and voluntary organisations must be fully involved in the decision-making process about regeneration initiatives. The success of the programme in the most deprived areas is also dependent on the index of urban conditions being used to ensure that areas of multi-deprivation remain the focus for attention. It seems that the single regeneration budget is now to be a scaled-down version of city challenge, with less funds and fewer winners.

Is it not strange that we heard nothing in the Minister's speech about the so-called capital receipts holiday? The time limit on the release of receipts was a cynical move by the Government, as it forced local authorities into a hopeless situation. We support local authorities being able to use their capital receipts, but we cannot agree with the time limit.

Local authorities had to sell as much as they could in an attempt to protect front-line services because of the cut in their standard spending assessments. However, they attempted to sell at a time when the market was at its most depressed. The year time scale meant that those buying from the authorities were in a very strong position, which partly explains why the authorities failed to raise the figures expected.

The 57 urban programme authorities were told by the Treasury that they would be able to cover the cut in the urban programme, plus the cut in standard spending assessments with the funds that they would raise from the sale of their investments. I have conducted a survey, and the truth is that not one of the authorities that have responded to my survey have been able to cover even the cut in their SSAs, let alone divert funds into the urban programme projects.

In total, 23 urban programme areas that responded faced a deficit of more than £24 million in their regeneration budgets alone. These areas are already, by definition, the most needy. Stealing from them, as the Government have sought to do, has hastened the decline in their infrastructure and has led to greater environmental degeneration—facts for which this Government are alone responsible.

The hopes and aspirations of those directly involved in urban regeneration are not lost for ever. I recently returned from the United States, where I met people involved with the creation and implementation of President Clinton's urban regeneration policy. The meetings included some at the Housing and Urban Development Department, where I spoke with Secretary Cisneros's advisers. To ensure that I got a balanced view and did not overlook any of the main agents, I spoke to members of the Centre for Community Change and people who were implementing the policies.

I found a real feeling of hope and excitement for the future there. After a decade of neglect and decay under Presidents Reagan and Bush, cities are finally back on the political agenda. The new Administration, under even tighter financial constraints than those in this country, are investing real money in inner cities. Nearly $900 million is being provided for 104 cities, six of which will get $100 million each, to be spent without federal Government interference in 10 years. 'That massive investment runs concurrently with—not instead of—existing Administration policies. The Administration are relaxing existing legislation to free funds that are already available.

As we are told, however, money is not everything. As well as that massive investment programme, the Clinton Administration are changing the emphasis for regeneration policy. From the President down, agencies have given their backing and support to regeneration schemes. As a result, the private sector is very excited by the prospect and is waiting, cheque book in hand, to become involved. At last, the Americans have an Administration who are prepared to act and to listen.

The private sector in Britain is a valued partner in regeneration policy, but Conservative Members must realise that it has had enough of the Government's tired and discredited policies. If they need any reminder that their policies are failing, the Minister and Conservative Members should read the speech by the director general of the Confederation of British Industry last week. He commented on the Government's attitude to local authorities. Howard Davies is not the first person in the private sector to speak out against Government policies, but merely the latest in a long and illustrious line that includes the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which stated that the role of local authorities and the work they undertake is vital. Policies need to be developed which will encourage local authorities to see the agency as a welcome partner, rather than an hinderance imposed from outside. The Institute of Directors, the British Urban Regeneration Agency and other organisations have been ready to support the view that the Government must ensure that regeneration policies are planned properly.

If the Government do not care about the views of the private sector, they care even less for those of the voluntary sector. For the past 15 years, that sector has largely been ignored. Regardless of that blanking by central Government, it has continued to grow in importance. It is vital for the voluntary sector to be allowed to play a full part in ensuring proper regeneration of our inner cities.

We have heard a lot from Conservative Members about certain Labour-controlled councils. I shall not waste the time of the House by reading out the Conservative list of shame, which includes Brent and Ealing councils. In Brent, council rents have increased by 71 per cent. and the rent arrears, at a staggering 34.4 per cent., are the worst in the country. There has been a 27 per cent. fall in the number of elderly people receiving home helps and a Tory councillor's car loan of £6,500 was written off and no action was taken.

In Ealing, £16,000 of council tenants' money was squandered in an aborted attempt to sell council housing and council rents have increased 118 per cent. under the Conservatives. For three years, Ealing has failed in its bids for European funding. The list goes on, but I have heavily edited it in view of the amount of time available.

It is no wonder that people in our inner cities are turning to the Labour party. The House will have heard about the splendid result in Quinton ward in Birmingham, where the Rev. Richard Bashford won the seat last night with a massive majority of 300 votes. It is the first time that the Labour party has won that seat. That is a tribute to the excellent work of Theresa Stewart, the leader of Birmingham city council, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones).

Our inner cities will either follow the American example, which has led to social fracture and anarchy, or take the path of the European city. Labour intends to tackle the problems of our inner cities head-on. That is why we established City 2020, an inquiry into our urban areas. The inquiry has visited 15 urban areas in the past six months and will visit a further 30 before November, because we do not feel that it is possible to develop a coherent effective strategy for our cities without consulting the people involved in the regeneration process. The committee is considering not only the ways in which urban policy has failed, but the success stories—the examples of good Labour councils throughout the country. It was Manchester, a Labour council, which put in an excellent bid for the Olympic games.

Yesterday, I was in Greenwich and Lewisham. In Lewisham, I saw, in the shape of the Lewisham 2000 initiative, a bold and imaginative attempt to unclog an inner-city area. In Greenwich, I saw evidence of a good Labour council working with the private sector through the Waterfront Partnership. I also heard of Greenwich's plans to be the centre of the millennium celebrations. What better place can there be in the world for those celebrations than the place where time itself is measured? I urge the Minister to support that venture, which will be a tremendous boost, not only for London, but for the country.

Which authority can match the municipal drive and imagination of Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds? Even the Government have shown they have had to swallow their pride and praise Labour councils. The Home Secretary mentioned Birmingham's crime-fighting initiatives and the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction praised Birmingham's housing policy. Those councils are not exceptions, but are members of a great and illustrious club, of which cities such as Coventry, Liverpool, Leicester, Nottingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Plymouth and Labour London are members. All have undertaken excellent schemes.

The Labour party proposes a new Magna Carta for our cities, encouraging civic entrepreneurship. Municipal leaders are waiting to take up the challenge to clear derelict land sites, construct new buildings, encourage the private sector to invest, create jobs, provide training opportunities, establish confidence in the area, build or enhance cultural amenities, promote an efficient transport infrastructure and confirm the international importance of their city. It will be a real partnership of equals. [Interruption.] The Minister may shout, but he spoke for 66 minutes. In that partnership, local authorities, the voluntary sector and the private sector will work together to improve our urban areas effectively.

No solutions can be imposed from above. Communities have to be empowered. Local people must realise that they have a stake in their environment. It has to belong to them. Ministers cannot, and must not, be allowed to adopt the Pontius Pilate attitude to inner-city problems. It cannot be left to the Church of England alone to have faith in our cities.

Our cities will have a major role to play, economically and socially, in the new global marketplace—one which will take them forward into the next millennium, prepared and ready to compete with not only the best in Europe, but the best in the world. The evidence is all around us. There is a new consensus for change. We have a good history of municipal leadership and the civic leaders in Britain are ready to take up that challenge.

2.27 pm
Mr. Baldry

The House will notice that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has given me only three minutes to respond to the debate, so I apologise to my hon. Friends if I am not able to respond in the way I should have liked.

We heard some excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Finchley (Mr. Booth), for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves), for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). Those speeches are worth reading and re-reading. My hon. Friends spoke with concern, knowledge and commitment.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who introduced the Opposition's approach to inner-city policy, put up three tests. He said that there should be a test on the economy, on planning and on co-ordination. I am happy to accept those tests.

It is obvious that the economy is moving from strength to strength. Unemployment decreased by 38,000 in the month to February. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since July 1992, and in the past six months unemployment has decreased by an average of more than 28,000 a month. Unemployment is reducing and the number of people in employment is increasing.

In February alone, the volume of retail sales was 2.5 per cent. above the previous year's level. Manufacturing productivity rose by 3 per cent. in the year to 1994. Some Opposition Members were scathing about the construction industry, but total orders received by contractors for construction work in the three months to January were 16 per cent. higher than in the previous three months and 30 per cent. higher than in the same period a year earlier.

I am happy to accept any challenge put to the Government on the economy, because we are one of the few countries in the developed world that are moving out of recession and into recovery.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East cannot have been listening when I described our new planning policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham also set those out clearly. New planning for town centres, retail developments, transport and the environment are all intended to ensure the regeneration—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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